An international chemical weapons watchdog said on Wednesday that it was unclear when its expert team could visit Syria’s Douma to investigate an alleged chemical attack.
“At present, we do not know when the FMM [Fact-Finding Mission] team can be deployed to Douma,” the director-general of the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement.
On April 10, the OPCW said it would deploy a fact-finding mission team to investigate the suspected chemical gas attack in Syria.
Uzumcu added that according to the agreement of the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), Syrian authorities would escort the team to a certain point and the Russian military police would take over.
“However, the UNDSS preferred to first conduct a reconnaissance visit to the sites, which took place yesterday [Tuesday]. FFM team members did not participate in this visit,” the statement added.
“On arrival at Site 1, a large crowd gathered and the advice provided by the UNDSS was that the reconnaissance team should withdraw,” Uzumcu said.
“At Site 2, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated. The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus,” he added.
The incident showed again that “the highly volatile environment” and “security risks” that the FFM team faces, Uzumcu added.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Wednesday accused the Syrian regime of delaying the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors sent to investigate a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
“We are very much aware of the delay that the regime imposed on that delegation but we are also very much aware of how they have operated in the past […]." Mattis told reporters before meeting with his Qatari counterpart Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah at the Pentagon.
"In other words, using the pause after a strike like that to try to clean up the evidence before the investigation team gets in. So it’s unfortunate they were delayed,” he added.
The suspected chemical attack, which killed at least 78 civilians, took place on April 7, and the OPCW team arrived in Syria on Saturday but has yet to commence its inquiry.
The U.S., U.K. and France jointly launched strikes Friday night targeting the Assad regime's chemical weapons capabilities in retaliation for the suspected chemical attack.