Chemical weapons inspectors launch probe into Douma attack
The world's chemical weapons watchdog is set to convene on Monday to discuss the suspected toxic gas assault in Syria earlier this month, as inspectors on the ground begin a probe of the attack site near Damascus.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' team of inspectors arrived in Damascus just hours after the US, UK and France launched strikes against Syrian government sites.
The team has been tasked with investigating the site of the alleged April 7 chemical attack in the town of Douma, in the formerly rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which Western powers say involved chlorine and sarin, and killed dozens.
Inspectors will face a difficult task, with all key players having pre-empted their findings, including Western powers, which justified the strikes by claiming they already had proof such weapons were used.
The team will also have to deal with the risk that evidence may have been removed from the site, which lies in an area that has been controlled by Russian military police and Syrian forces over the past week.
"That possibility always has to be taken into account, and investigators will look for evidence that shows whether the incident site has been tampered with," Ralf Trapp, a consultant and member of a previous OPCW mission to Syria, told AFP.
The OPCW declared that the Syrian government's chemical weapons stockpile had been removed in 2014, only to confirm later that sarin was used in a 2017 attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhun.
"We will ensure they can work professionally, objectively, impartially and free of any pressure," Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Soussan told AFP.
As the investigation gets under way, the fallout from the US-led military response continue to reverberate, with French President Emmanuel Macron claiming to have persuaded President Donald Trump to keep his troops in Syria.
The US-led strikes were the biggest international attack on President Bashar al-Assad's regime since the start of Syria's seven-year war.
US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting chemical weapons development and storage facilities Saturday, in a move lauded by President Donald Trump as "perfectly executed" - although the buildings were mostly empty and both Damascus and Syria's opposition rubbished the impact of the action.