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The Latest: Russia: Chemical inspectors head to attack site

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

4 p.m.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry says a team of international chemical weapons inspectors has departed for the Syrian town of Douma, site of an alleged chemical weapons attack that prompted a retaliatory missile strike by the U.S., U.K. and France.

The team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was delayed for several days in its attempts to reach Douma.

In a statement Saturday, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the team had left for the town and decried the delay as “unacceptable.”

Russia, whose forces in Syria back President Bashar Assad’s army, has denied claims that Syrian forces carried out the alleged April 7 attack.

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1:30 p.m.

The United Nations’ special envoy for Syria says he is encouraged that Russia continues to support the so-called Geneva process for a political resolution in Syria despite tensions over the Western missile strike.

U.N. Security Council ambassadors are to hold a retreat this weekend in Sweden, where the council’s failure to end the seven-year Syrian conflict is expected to be a key issue.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants to relaunch the Geneva political process aimed at restoring peace to the country.

Envoy Staffan de Mistura met Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and said: “I am very pleased … that in spite of what happened last week, and it is still very recent, that there is a strong commitment from the Russian Federation to push forth the political process.”

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1:20 p.m.

Syrian state media says rebels have started to evacuate three towns in the eastern Qalamoun region in the Damascus countryside.

Al-Ikhbariya TV says several buses left the towns of Ruhaiba, Jayroud, and al-Nasriya carrying hundreds of rebels and their families to opposition territory in north Syria.

The station says there could be 3,200 rebels leaving three towns on Saturday. It says the evacuations will continue for three days.

Syrian government forces will take over the towns once the departures are complete.

The evacuations are the latest in a string of population transfers around the Syrian capital that have displaced more than 60,000 people as the government reconsolidates control.

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