OPCW ‘on Its Way’ to Douma; U.S. Still in Talks With Allies Over Syria Response
A global chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that its investigators were on their way to Syria to look into last weekend’s suspected poison-gas attack, Al Jazeera reported.
In a statement, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that a fact-finding mission will start work on April 14, to determine whether chemical weapons were used in Saturday’s alleged gas attack on Douma, the largest town in Eastern Ghouta.
Russia and the Syrian government claim that the suspected chemical attack was fabricated by rebels. Moscow has said that its experts have found no trace of chemical weapons at the site of the alleged incident. The United States, France and the United Kingdom, however, have held Syrian president Bashar al-Assad responsible and have threatened to strike at Syria in response to his alleged use of chemical weapons.
French president Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that France had proof the Syrian government carried out a chemical attack on Douma, according to Reuters. Macron said that he will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has been gathered.
British prime minister Theresa May has said that “all indications” point to Syrian responsibility for the attack and her senior ministers on Thursday agreed to back unspecified action against the Syrian government to deter chemical weapons use, Reuters reported.
U.S. defense secretary Jim Mattis said on Thursday that he believes a chemical attack did in fact take place. “I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence,” he was quoted as saying.
However, the White House said the same day that there had been no decision on whether the U.S. will strike Syria. “No final decision has been made,” the White House said, according to Reuters. “We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” its statement said.
Meanwhile, Russia on Thursday warned against a potential escalation in Syria, saying it could lead to a wider conflict, the Associated Press reported.
“We hope that there will be no point of no return – that the U.S. and their allies will refrain from military action against a sovereign state,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, told reporters, adding that “the danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria.”
Rebels Surrender Last Enclave East of the Capital to Government Forces
The last rebel fighters in Eastern Ghouta handed over their heavy weapons to Russian military police, effectively surrendering their final pocket east of the capital, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday.
Jaish al-Islam’s top leader Issam Buwaydani was among those in the evacuation of Douma, signaling the end of an almost two-month-long government campaign that has killed roughly 1,600 people, AFP said, citing the United Kingdom-based monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Meanwhile Hamza Bayraqdar, a spokesman for Jaish al-Islam, said that all his fighters had evacuated Douma and handed over maps of land mines they had set and tunnels they had dug, the AP reported, citing Syrian state media.
Earlier on Thursday, the Russian military said government forces were in full control of Douma, and therefore the entire Eastern Ghouta region. But there was no immediate confirmation that Syrian troops and allied forces had entered Douma.
Russian military police started to patrol Douma the same day, the Moscow defense ministry said in a statement. “From today, units of the Russian armed forces’ military police are working in the town of Douma. They are a guarantee of the observance of law and order in the town,”
- The Associated Press: Analysis: Putin Unlikely to Leave Strike on Syria Unanswered
- Agence France-Presse: Syria’s Ruined Ghouta Unrecognizable to Returnees
- Reuters: Factbox: Assad’s Foreign Backers in Syria’s War
- The Washington Post: 6 Basic Questions About the War in Syria
- ABC News: How Russia Has Hinted It Could React to U.S. Strikes in Syria: Analysis