The Latest: France demands access for chemical inspectors

The Latest: France demands access for chemical inspectors
The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syria conflict (all times local):

9 p.m.

France is suggesting that Syria and Russia may be covering up evidence of a chemical weapons attack, and is demanding that international inspectors gain access to the Syrian town where it alleged happened.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement Friday that the inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should have “complete, immediate and unobstructed access” to the Syrian town of Douma to investigate the April 7 attack.

The OPCW inspectors are in Syria but have been unable to visit Douma.

Le Drian said two weeks of “obstruction” by Russia and Syria “is damaging the quality of the investigation” and is probably aimed at allowing unspecified perpetrators to “make proof and material evidence disappear.”

France, the U.S. and Britain bombed suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites last week, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind the Douma attack, which killed at least 40 people. Syria denies responsibility and Russia has strongly criticized the bombing.


7:05 p.m.

The U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State group says its local allies in Syria have captured a Syrian-born German IS operative previously tied to a 9/11-linked jihadist cell.

U.S. Col. Ryan Dillon says the Syrian Democratic Forces captured Mohammed Haydar Zammar in northeast Syria roughly four weeks ago.

Zammar, a Syrian-born German, was a key member of a Hamburg jihadist cell that included three of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots.

Dillon says Zammar is in SDF custody. He says coalition officials are working with the SDF in “ongoing intelligence activities.” He declined to say whether officials have met face-to-face with Zammar.

The Kurdish-led SDF have been of the U.S.’s most trusted allies in Syria in its war on the Islamic State group. The U.S. has some 2,000 special forces embedded with the SDF.

The White House says it wants to wind down America’s troop presence in Syria.


8 p.m.

The U.N. spokesman says discussions are taking place in Syria’s capital with all key parties on security arrangements for inspectors from the U.N. chemical weapons watchdog to visit the site of a suspected chemical attack in Douma.

Stephane Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters Thursday that “due to the volatility” of the situation on the ground in Douma the United Nations doesn’t want “to telegraph” when a U.N. security team will return to Douma to check out whether conditions on the ground are safe for the inspectors to visit.

A U.N. security team touring the sites of the alleged attack on Tuesday was shot at and subjected to a blast but returned safely to Damascus, Dujarric said earlier.

The alleged April 7 chemical attack in Douma prompted the United States, France, and Britain to strike at suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities.


7:45 p.m.

Syrian state media says government forces have retaken control of a town in northeast Damascus after rebels departed to north Syria.

Al-Ikhbariya TV showed footage of residents welcoming security forces into Dumayr after the last busload of Army of Islam rebels and their family members left to Jarablus, a town in north Syria.

Jarablus is shared between Turkish and Syrian opposition control.

Residents, waving the national flag, lifted the al-Ikhbariya TV correspondent Rabieh Dibeh on their shoulders and chanted their support for President Bashar Assad.

About 1,500 fighters and 3,500 of their family members left Dumayr on Thursday, choosing to relocate to north Syria than accept an amnesty offered by the government.

Dumayr is in the Qalamoun mountains, near the eastern Ghouta region which came under full government control last week after a weeks-long offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.


7:35 p.m.

Syrian state media says government forces have started bombing an Islamic State-held zone in Damascus.

An arrangement announced earlier Thursday for the militants to give up their pocket in the capital appears to have fallen apart.

Al-Ikhbariya TV says government planes are bombing the Hajr al-Aswad neighborhood and the Yarmouk Palestinian camp, both under IS control.

Earlier on Thursday, the Damascus-based Palestinian official Khaled Abdelmajid said the government was giving hard-liners two days to leave Yarmouk and Hajr al-Aswad, leaving the government with control of the two neighborhoods.

Local opposition activist Sami Dreid, in the nearby Yalda neighborhood, said the militants were expected to relocate to IS-held territory in the east Syrian desert.

Dreid said it was not clear why the deal appeared to have fallen through.


6:15 p.m.

The spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Syrian troops found chlorine of German origin in the Eastern Ghouta region, which includes a town where a suspected chemical weapons attack prompted retaliatory missile strikes by the West on Syrian government targets.

Syria and its Russian backers deny that government forces were responsible for the reported attack in the town of Douma. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed the incident was staged by Britain and a Russian general in Syria says no evidence of chemical weapons has been found in Douma. Rebels who once held the town abandoned it this month.

However, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that “Syrian government troops, in freeing the territory of Eastern Ghouta, found containers with chlorine, the most terrible kind of chemical weapon, from Germany.” The statement appeared to be aimed at bolstering contentions that Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons.


3:30 p.m.

Iraq says it has launched airstrikes in neighboring Syria against Islamic State militants.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office says Iraqi fighter jets launched “lethal” airstrikes against the extremists in an area along the border. It says the militants posed a threat to Iraq, without providing further details.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have driven IS from nearly all the territory it once held, but the extremists have maintained a presence in the remote desert areas along the border. Iraq has carried out airstrikes in Syria against the group in the past.


1:30 p.m.

Syrian state media say hundreds of rebels fighters in a town northeast of Damascus have handed in their weapons and started to leave under an evacuation deal.

Under the agreement, the rebels are allowed to move with their families to opposition-held areas in the country’s north, effectively surrendering their turf to Syrian government forces.

The state SANA news agency says the Army of Islam fighters and their families are leaving the town of Dumayr on Thursday. The report says 1,500 rebels and 3,500 of their next of kin are to leave Dumayr for the town of Jarablus, near the Turkish border.

Dumayr is in the Qalamoun mountains, near the eastern Ghouta region which came under full government control last week after a weeks-long offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.