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Gunfire on an international security team at the site of an alleged chemical attack in Syria

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) – A United Nations security team has been under fire in Syria during a reconnaissance mission as part of preparations for a visit by inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to a site believed to have been attacked with chemical weapons. Officials said it was no longer clear when inspectors would be able to enter. Region.

The inspectors of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria to investigate an alleged attack on April 7 say Western countries and rescue workers say government forces have killed dozens of civilians with gas, a charge Damascus denies.

Ahmed Ozumjo, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the UN Department of Peace and Security had decided to carry out a reconnaissance operation in two locations in Duma before the inspectors entered.

“As soon as the first site is reached, a large crowd and our Department of Peace and Security have gathered to withdraw. On the second site, the group was exposed to small arms fire and an explosion occurred and the reconnaissance team returned to Damascus.”

In Washington, US Defense Secretary Jim Matisse blamed the Syrian government for delaying the inspectors’ arrival and said Damascus had a history of trying to “hide the evidence before the investigation team entered.”

“We are fully aware of the delay imposed by the regime on that delegation, but we also know very well how they worked before and hid what they did using chemical weapons,” Matisse said before starting a meeting with his Qatari counterpart.

The United States, Britain and France launched missiles on three targets in Syria at dawn on Saturday to punish President Bashar al-Assad for the alleged chemical attack, the first Western coordinated move against Assad in the seven-year war.

They say the authorities currently in control of the area have blocked the arrival of the inspectors and that the evidence of the chemical attack could be erased.

Russia and Syria deny the use of toxic gas or impede investigation or tampering with evidence.

Peter Wilson, Britain’s delegate to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said it was not clear when the fact-finding mission would always be able to enter into peace.

The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group, based in Douma, announced its surrender hours after the suspected chemical attack and the last group of militants left the group a week later after hours of Western strikes.

US-led intervention has threatened to escalate the standoff between the West and Russia, which supports Assad, but has had no impact on the fighting on the ground, with pro-government forces continuing a campaign to crush opposition militants.

Assad is in the strongest position since the first months of the civil war, which killed more than 500,000 people and forced more than half of the Syrians to flee their country.

– Delay causes conflict –

The OPCW team will seek evidence from soil samples, interviews with eyewitnesses, blood samples, urine and tissue from victims and weapons. But more than a week after the suspected attack it may be difficult to reach concrete evidence.

An official close to the Syrian government said the security team met protesters demonstrating against the US-led strikes.

“It was a message from the people,” the official said, adding that the mission would “complete its work.”

It has always been the last town under the control of the armed opposition in the eastern Gauta enclave, which until recently was the last major stronghold of the opposition near the capital Damascus. The government retook Ghouta in a two-month campaign.

Syria’s UN envoy said on Tuesday the fact-finding mission would begin its work in Duma on Wednesday if the UN security team felt the situation was safe.

Raed al-Saleh, director of the Syrian “White Helmets” relief agency, said on Wednesday that the organization had designated international inspectors for burial sites for victims of the attack, believed to have been carried out with chemical weapons on April 7.

Workers at Douma hospital who remained in the city after the army took over said that the injured on the night of the attack were not exposed to chemical weapons.

But charitable organizations working in areas controlled by the opposition in Syria denied the statements and considered them lies they were made to hate.