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Executive Summary for April 17th

We review the key developments in Syria, including state media saying no fresh attack on Syria has taken place and Russia saying it will allow the OPCW access to Douma after being accused of blocking investigations.

Published on April 17, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

State Media Says No New Attack on Syria, Claims False Alarm

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said on Tuesday that a false alarm activated Syria’s anti-aircraft defenses overnight, clarifying that there was no new “foreign” attack on the country.

A commander in the regional military alliance that backs the Syrian government also told Reuters that air defense missiles were fired because of a false alarm.

Syrian state TV had earlier reported that Syrian air defenses shot down missiles targeting the Shayrat airbase in Homs, which was struck by U.S. forces last year, according to Reuters.

A Hezbollah media service had claimed that the Syrian army also intercepted three missiles that were fired at Dumair military airport, northeast of Damascus, which was reportedly used by the government during its nearly two-month-long campaign against Eastern Ghouta.

Tuesday’s false alarm comes days after the United States, the United Kingdom and France launched more than 100 missiles targeting the Syrian government’s suspected chemical weapons capabilities.

It also comes a little more than a week after Israel was suspected of firing missiles at the T4 airbase, also in Homs province, killing at least 14 people, including seven Iranians. Israel has yet to confirm the attack but Iran, the Syrian government and Russia have held Tel Aviv responsible.

OPCW to Access Douma on Wednesday; West Accuses Russia of Tampering With Evidence

Chemical weapons inspectors have yet to gain access to sites in the town of Douma, where a suspected chemical attack killed some 70 people earlier this month, the Guardian reported.

However, Russia said that it would allow investigators to visit the site of the attack on Wednesday, five days after inspections were scheduled to commence and 11 days after the suspected chemical attack took place.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last week that its fact-finding mission was supposed to start investigations on Saturday. But Russia and the Syrian government have denied inspectors access because of “pending security issues,” according to Ahmet Uzumcu, the OPCW’s director general.

Uzumcu said that Syrian authorities were proposing interviews with 22 witnesses instead. He also expressed hopes that “all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible.”

On Monday, Russia’s deputy foreign minister said the fact-finding mission could not access Douma because they did not have the appropriate security permits from the United Nations. But the U.N. responded by saying it had provided all necessary clearances.

The Russian deputy envoy at the U.N. said Saturday’s missile attack on Syria was the main reason investigators were barred from accessing Douma. “If you go to a site which was just bombed I imagine you might have certain logistic problems,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and the U.K. accused Russia and the Syrian government of tampering with the evidence in an attempt to cover up the suspected chemical weapons attack on Douma.

“The Syrian regime has reportedly been attempting to conceal the evidence by searching evacuees from Douma to ensure samples are not being smuggled from this area, and a wider operation to conceal the facts of the attack is under way, supported by the Russians,” U.K. prime minister Theresa May told Parliament on Monday.

Kenneth Ward, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, said he was concerned that Russian military officials who deployed in Douma before investigators arrived “may have tampered with” the site of the attack.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov denied accusations, saying he could “guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.”

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