Syria air strikes: Russia denies tampering with suspected chemical attack site

BBC News:  

Russia has denied interfering with evidence at the site of a suspected Syrian government chemical weapons attack which led to Saturday’s military intervention by Western states.

In an interview for BBC’s Hardtalk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.”

He spoke as the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog held an urgent meeting.

International inspectors are trying to reach the site in Douma, near Damascus.

The UK ambassador to the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), Peter Wilson, quoted the agency’s director-general, Ahmet Üzümcü, as saying they were still waiting.

The Swedish delegation cited a briefing from Mr Üzümcü that said Syria and Russia were concerned that security on the ground could not be guaranteed.

The meeting in The Hague is behind closed doors, but Reuters news agency reports that the American ambassador, Kenneth Ward, expressed concern the Russian forces there might have tampered with evidence.


What happened in Douma?

The suspected attack, denied by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, was carried out in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on 7 April, reportedly killing dozens of people.

Two bombs filled with chemicals were reportedly dropped several hours apart on the town.

Syrian medical sources say bodies were found foaming at the mouth, and with discoloured skin and cornea burns.

US sources said they had obtained blood and urine samples from victims which had tested positive for chlorine and a nerve agent.

Control over the town has since passed from rebels to the Syrian and Russian military authorities.

What else did Lavrov say?

The Russian foreign minister again denied the use of chemical weapons in Douma.

“I cannot be impolite with the heads of other states, but you quoted the leaders of France and the UK and US and, frankly speaking, all the evidence they quoted was based on media reports and social media.”

The event did not take place, he said. “What did take place was the staged thing,” he added

Mr Lavrov also questioned why the US and its allies had carried out air strikes the day before international inspectors were due to arrive at the site.

On the air strikes, he repeated the Russian assertion that two-thirds of the more than 100 missiles fired into Syria on Saturday had failed to reach their targets.

Mr Lavrov said the “deconfliction channel” to prevent a clash between US and Russian forces had done its job and a confrontation had not been close.

But he added that Russia and the West were facing a situation worse than during the Cold War due to a lack of channels of communication between the two sides.