Chemical weapons inspectors back from Syria’s Douma

Labels of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are seen inside a damaged house in Douma in Damascus, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 04 May 2018
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Chemical weapons inspectors back from Syria’s Douma

  • Chemical weapons experts have completed their mission to the Syrian town of Douma to probe last month’s alleged chemical attack
  • The OPCW said the analysis of samples collected may still take weeks

AMSTERDAM: Chemical weapons inspectors have returned from a mission to the Syrian town of Douma, where they took samples and interviewed witnesses to determine whether banned munitions were used in an attack last month, said the global watchdog on Friday.
A team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons returned to the Netherlands on Thursday night after going to Damascus on April 14.
Russian news agencies on Friday quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying the inspectors had completed their trip to sites in Douma.

"The initial deployment of the fact-finding mission... in Douma is complete," the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said from its headquarters in The Hague.
"Samples have been brought to the OPCW laboratory where they will be split and then dispatched to the OPCW designated laboratories," it added in a statement.
The suspected chemical attack prompted missile strikes by the United States, France and Britain on April 13 against several alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria.
The OPCW is investigating the deaths of dozens of people in Douma, an enclave in Ghouta on the oustskrts of the Syrian capital, on April 7.
The United States and its allies say they were caused by chemical weapons, possibly a nerve agent, used by forces of the Russian-back government of President Bashar Assad.
Inspectors visited two sites of alleged attacks and took samples, which will be split at their laboratory in the Netherlands before being forwarded to affiliated national labs for testing. The OPCW will not assign blame.

But the global watchdog warned that the analysis of samples “may take at least three to four weeks,” with inspectors continuing to collect more information and material.
“At this time it is not possible to give a timeframe for when the Douma report will be issued to states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention,” the OPCW said.
The inspectors were also expected to have taken samples from canisters found at the scene that are believed to have contained toxic agents dropped from airplanes or helicopters.
Russia and Syria last week held a briefing for states belonging to the OPCW to support Moscow’s assertion that no chemical weapons were used in Douma and the attack was staged by rebels.
The briefing was boycotted by several OPCW member states, who denounced the Russian event as “a crude propaganda exercise” intended to undermine the OPCW’s work.
Britain, the United States, France, Germany and others, said in a statement that all material gathered so far supported their theory that chemical weapons were used in Douma.
The information gathered to date is “unassailable,” they said at the time. Medical NGOs having found traces of chemical agents and authenticated photo and video evidence reinforces the theory of gas intoxication by hundreds of victims.
The World Health Organization has also expressed concern “at reports from its partners of patients exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.”
A joint United Nations-OPCW investigation concluded last year that Syrian government forces used sarin nerve agent and chlorine in several attacks.
The joint mission ended in November after Russia repeatedly blocked UN Security Council resolutions that would have extended its mandate.


Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

Updated 23 May 2019
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Pentagon plans to send 5,000 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat: US officials

  • Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other
  • The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Defense is considering a US military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by US Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.
The Pentagon regularly receives — and declines — requests for additional resources from US combatant commands throughout the world.
One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.
This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what US officials have said are credible threats from Iran against US forces and American interests in the Middle East.
The Pentagon declined to comment on future plans.
“As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
Trump had warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East.