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The Latest: UN says more security needed at Douma site

The Latest: UN says more security needed at Douma site
The Associated Press

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

9:55 p.m.

The United Nations says further steps are needed to secure the suspected site of a chemical attack in Douma and a security team will need to make another visit before a fact-finding mission can go there.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday the measures are needed in view of the small arms fire and explosive device detonated during a visit by the U.N. advance team Tuesday.

Asked when the U.N. security team would make another visit, he said, “as soon as practicable.”

Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that “there is still a lot of volatility in the area.”

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7:10 p.m.

The United Nations says its special envoy for Syria is undertaking intensive high-level consultations with senior officials in key countries on options for “a meaningful relaunch” of U.N.-facilitated political negotiations.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that Staffan de Mistura embarked on the consultations following a meeting Monday with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia “and in view of current tensions.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Tuesday that airstrikes on Syrian chemical sites on April 7 by the U.S., Britain and France had set back political negotiations to end the even-year conflict.

Dujarric said de Mistura held consultations with the Arab League secretary-general, foreign ministers including from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq and the European Union high representative, and joined Guterres at meetings with the king, crown prince and foreign minister of Saudi Arabia.

De Mistura also plans to meet with Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials as well as officials from several European counties and the U.S.

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6:55 p.m.

Russia’s military says a Syrian security employee was wounded in an attack on a U.N. team as it was on a security mission to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack just outside Damascus.

The team had to return to its base in Damascus after Tuesday’s shooting attack.

The shooting occurred during a site visit to Douma, ahead of an expected visit to the area by a team of chemical weapons experts who have been delayed for days.

Maj.-Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko said “a Syrian security employee received light wounds during the crossfire. No Russian servicemen were at the site of the incident.”

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5:55 p.m.

The chief of the global chemical weapons watchdog says it remains unclear when a team of its experts can visit the Syrian town of Douma to investigate an alleged deadly chemical weapon attack.

Independent experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus on Saturday to carry out a fact-finding mission. They are still waiting to visit nearby Douma, 11 days after the alleged attack took place.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told a meeting of the organization’s Executive Council on Wednesday that the team will not visit Douma until United Nations security experts, who came under fire in the town on Tuesday, deem it safe and only if the team “can have unhindered access to the sites.”

Uzumcu says the incident Tuesday, “again highlights the highly volatile environment in which the FFM (Fact-Finding Mission) is having to work and the security risks our staff are facing.”

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4:45 p.m.

A United Nations official says a U.N. team on a security mission to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria was fired upon and had to return to its base in Damascus.

The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the shooting occurred during a site visit to Douma on Tuesday, ahead of an expected visit to the area by a team of chemical weapons experts who have been delayed for days.

Independent experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are still waiting to visit the town, 11 days after the alleged attack took place. They arrived in Damascus on a fact-finding mission on Saturday.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told a closed-door meeting of his organization that it remains unclear when the team will be able to deploy to Douma, U.K. Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters in The Hague.

Uzumcu said on Monday that the Syrian government and its ally Russia were blocking his team from visiting Douma.

Russia and the Syrian government deny responsibility for the alleged attack.

__ Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations

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2:40 p.m.

Syrian state media say rebels in a town northeast of Damascus are handing over their weapons as part of an agreement reached with the Syrian government.

Al-Ikhbariya TV says the fighters from the Army of Islam rebel group and their families have begun evacuating the town of Dumayr, bound for opposition-held areas in the north as part of the agreement. The Syrian military would then enter the town.

It says the total number of evacuees has reached 5,000, including 1,500 gunmen. It also showed footage of what it says are weapons handed over to the Syrian military.

Dumayr is near the eastern Ghouta region, which came under full government control last week after a weekslong offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.

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Noon

International chemical weapons inspectors do not appear to have visited the site of a suspected attack in Syria after days of delays by Syrian and Russian authorities.

Syrian state media reported Tuesday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had entered the town of Douma, but Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, later said that only a U.N. advance security team had entered.

The U.S. State Department has accused the Syrian government and its ally Russia of trying to cover up the alleged April 7 attack. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday the U.S. did not believe the inspectors had entered Douma, and that the evidence is at risk of decaying as delays drag on.

There was no comment from the OPCW or the U.N. on Wednesday.

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