Chemical arms experts blocked from site of Syria attack

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LONDON — Chemical arms inspectors were blocked on Monday from the site of what is suspected of having been a poison attack by Syria's military near Damascus, raising Western suspicions that Syria and its Russian ally were scrubbing the stricken area of evidence.

Who was responsible for the blocking, and why, quickly became part of the international recrimination and invective that have shaped blame over the Syria war since it began more than seven years ago.

The inspectors, from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, arrived in Syria on Saturday with the urgent goal of investigating the site of the April 7 attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which killed dozens.

But 48 hours later the inspectors were prevented from reaching the site, which Syrian and Russian forces have captured from rebels.

The inspectors, who wanted to take samples and interview people, "are currently being prevented from doing so by the regime and the Russians," Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain said in Parliament.

Russia — which has questioned whether the Douma attack even happened — ridiculed the Western accusation, asserting that the United Nations had exercised its authority to delay the inspectors for security reasons.

The United Nations disputed the Russian explanation, saying it had no security issues and wanted the inspectors to reach the site quickly.

When, or even whether, the inspectors would be allowed unfettered access to the site remained unclear Monday night, despite Russian and Syrian promises of cooperation.

The Douma attack led to airstrikes in Syria over the weekend by the United States and its allies, Britain and France, which said they believed that President Bashar Assad's forces had carried it out.

The Western allies said the airstrikes were aimed at degrading the chemical arms capabilities of Assad.

The repeated use of chemical weapons in the Syria conflict, a war crime, reflects what many disarmament experts describe as new levels of impunity that threaten respect for international treaties and the rule of law.

Assad has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. President Vladimir Putin of Russia and his subordinates have called the accusations of Russian complicity a lie.


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