British ambassador to OPCW: inspectors ready for Douma but need Russian protection

An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows unidentified volunteers giving aid to children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town

British ambassador to OPCW: inspectors ready for Douma but need Russian protection

Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are in the capital, Damascus - but have been waiting to begin their inspection.

Washington accused Moscow of blocking the global inspectors from reaching the site of the Douma attack and said Russians or Syrians may have tampered with evidence on the ground.

"It's becoming absolutely clear that those in the West, who are hiding behind the humanitarian rhetoric and trying to justify their military presence in Syria with the need of defeating the jihadists, are on the same side as them [the terrorists], working towards dismembering the country", the Foreign Ministry said. "This policy exists to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process and its results as well as to ensure the safety and security of OPCW experts and personnel involved", the OPCW Public Affairs said.

Russia's foreign minister told the BBC that "Russia has not tampered with the site".

The report, which provided a broad outline of the Syrian government-backed offensive supported by Russian Federation on the eastern Ghouta region over recent months, also said French services had assessed that not all Syrian government chemical stockpiles and capacities had been declared to the United Nations.

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Mr Lavrov and others have also criticised the three countries for carrying out the strikes before the OPCW team could conduct their investigation.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, says 177,000 people have fled Eastern Ghouta since February, with 108,000 going to government-held areas.

Two bombs filled with chemicals were reportedly dropped several hours apart on the town.

United States sources said they had obtained blood and urine samples from victims which had tested positive for chlorine and a nerve agent.

In London and Paris, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron faced criticism from political opponents over their decisions to take part in the air strikes against Syria.

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Moscow blamed the delay on the air strikes, in which the United States, France and Britain targeted what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities.

The Russians, however, say 71 missiles were shot down by Syrian systems - many of them older Soviet-era defences.

The OPCW's fact-finding mission "will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma", the agency said in a statement.

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