OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy

The security team entered Douma earlier to determine whether the experts can deploy there Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 18 April 2018
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OPCW chemical probe team has not yet begun work in Douma, says Syrian envoy

  • Ambassador Jaafari says it's up to the UN mission to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations
  • The suspected April 7 gas attack on Douma, blamed by Western powers on the Syrian regime, left more than 40 people dead

NEW YORK: Experts from the OPCW chemical watchdog are awaiting the green light from a UN security assessment team before beginning their investigation of an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma, the Syrian ambassador said Tuesday.
The security team entered Douma earlier to determine whether the experts can deploy there Wednesday, said Ambassador Bashar Jaafari.
“If this United Nations security team decides that the situation is sound in Douma then the fact-finding mission will begin its work in Douma tomorrow,” Jaafari told the Security Council.
The Syrian state news agency earlier reported that the international team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had entered Douma to begin their investigation of whether chemical agents were used as a weapon.
The ambassador stressed that the “Syrian government did all that it can do to facilitate the work of this mission” but that it was up to the UN and the OPCW to decide whether to deploy, based on security considerations.
The inspectors arrived in Damascus on Saturday, when Britain, France and the US launched military strikes against what they said were targets linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. The suspected April 7 gas attack on Douma, near Damascus, reportedly left more than 40 people dead and was blamed by Western powers on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Syrian regime forces shelled the last pockets in Damascus controlled by Daesh, preparing the ground for a possible assault on the terrorist stronghold, a monitor said Wednesday.
After fully retaking the Eastern Ghouta region on the edge of the capital, the Syrian regime has turned its attention to other areas across the country that still escape its control.
Among them are neighborhoods in southern Damascus from which many civilians have fled but are still held by Daesh, including the Yarmouk area that hosts a Palestinian refugee camp.
“Regime forces shelled several Daesh positions in Yarmouk camp and Hajjar Al-Aswad, killing one person and wounded others,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Both sides had traded fire the previous night, the Britain-based monitor said, causing at least five deaths, most of them regime soldiers.
“The regime is turning up the heat ahead of a big assault that would break Daesh’s back and force them to evacuate the area,” the head of the observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said.
Daesh still has a presence in Yarmouk, and the neighboring areas of Hajjar Al-Aswad, Tadamon and Qadam. Yarmouk used to be the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, with a population of 160,000, but only a few thousand people remain inside the devastated area.
The state news agency SANA reported on Tuesday that a deal had also been reached for rebels to quit Dumayr, a town further to the east, where a reconciliation agreement had kept a security status quo since 2016.
It said on Wednesday fighters from the Jaish Al-Islam rebel faction were continuing to hand over their heavy and intermediate weapons in Dumayr ahead of their departure to the northern town of Jarabulus.
SANA said a total of 5,000 people including 1,500 rebels were expected to leave the town.


Damascus approves UN aid delivery to remote camp on Jordan-Syria border

Updated 18 min 40 sec ago
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Damascus approves UN aid delivery to remote camp on Jordan-Syria border

AMMAN: The Syrian government gave approval for the UN to deliver aid next week to thousands of desperate civilians stranded near a US garrison in southeastern Syria on the Iraqi-Syrian border, aid workers and camp officials said on Wednesday.
A siege earlier this month by the Syrian army and a block on aid by Jordan has depleted food in the camp and led to at least a dozen deaths in the last week among its over 50,000 inhabitants, mainly women and children, residents and UN sources said.