Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) “arrived” in Douma, Syria, on Tuesday, but they were not able to enter the town and examine the sites where the Syrian government allegedly deployed chemical weapons.
As of Thursday, the inspection team is still on hold and has no timetable for examining the sites. It has now been almost two weeks since the attack occurred.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the OPCW explained that security for the sites that its fact-finding mission intended to visit was the responsibility of Russian military police. Arrangements were made for the Syrian military to escort the OPCW team to a “certain point,” where the Russians would take over.
The United Nations decided to send its own security team in advance. The results were discouraging:
On arrival at Site 1, a large crowd gathered and the advice provided by the UNDSS was that the reconnaissance team should withdraw. At Site 2, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated. The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus.
An “official close to the Syrian government” told Reuters the hostile crowd that materialized at the first site was protesting the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria on Friday night.
“It was a message from the people,” the official claimed.
The U.N. is reportedly working with the Syrian government, local councils in Douma, and the Russians to “review the security situation,” but the OPCW does not know when its fact-finding mission will be allowed to visit the sites.
On Wednesday, Al-Jazeera slammed Syrian state media for misleading reports that suggested the OPCW inspectors had entered Douma and commenced their examination of the chemical attack sites, rather than being compelled to abandon their mission and return to safety.
Al-Jazeera’s report also pointed out that, only a few days ago, the Syrian and Russian governments claimed Douma had been “fully liberated from terrorists.”
CBS News reports that its correspondents were able to tour Douma this week and found the town “peaceful,” with residents “out on the streets and starting to clean up.” One resident told CBS that chemical weapons were used in Douma to deadly effect but insisted they were “dropped here by the terrorists,” not the Assad regime. A day after CBS’s visit, Russian state media claimed a rebel chemical weapons stockpile was discovered in the area.
Speaking before a meeting with the defense secretary of Qatar on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis blamed the Syrian government for delaying the investigation of Douma.
“We are very much aware of the delay that the regime imposed on that delegation but we are also very much aware of how they have operated in the past and seal what they have done using chemical weapons,” Mattis said of the Syrian regime.
“In other words, using the pause after a strike like that to try to clean up the evidence before the investigation team gets in. So it’s unfortunate they were delayed,” he added.