OPCW experts to exhume bodies of Douma attack victims: report

The former rebel-held Syrian town of Douma was hit by an alleged chemical attack in April
AFP/File STRINGER

The Hague (AFP) – Global chemical arms inspectors are to take the unprecedented step of exhuming some bodies of victims in the Syrian town of Douma as they work to verify last month’s alleged chemical attack, a media report said Thursday.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons chief Ahmet Uzumcu told the Financial Times that the organisation’s fact-finding mission had already gathered over 100 “environmental samples” since getting access to the site northeast of Damascus on April 21.

The OPCW’s mission to Douma was launched after footage from an apparent April 7 onslaught horrified the world and prompted unparallelled strikes on Syrian military installations.

But inspectors, in a bid to find further evidence of alleged chlorine and sarin use in the attack, which medics and rescuers say more than 40 people were killed, are now looking at “ways to exhume and take some biomedical samples,” Uzumcu said.

“It is a very sensitive process. That’s why they are very cautious. Although our experts have been able to attend some autopsies in the past, this is going to be the first time we have exhumed bodies,” he told the paper.

The Hague-based OPCW confirmed to AFP that inspectors are indeed looking to conduct autopsies on the bodies, adding that the fact-finding mission “is continuing to explore all avenues for collecting evidence”.

Uzumcu told the Financial Times that it could be a month before the mission publishes its report on Douma.

But an OPCW official told AFP that it “is premature to speculate as to when the report will be ready for sharing” with the watchdog’s state parties.   

The OPCW mission gained access to Douma on April 21 after several delays, but experts have said chemical traces — if they existed — could still be found including in the bodies of the alleged victims.

Damascus and Moscow have accused Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets of staging the video footage at the behest of the United States and its allies.

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