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Likely that proof of gas attack in Syria disappears before experts arrive: France

French foreign ministry has accused Russia and Syria of denying access to experts dispatched to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma on April 7.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2018 18:32 IST
Agence France-Presse, Paris
Syria,Douma,Eastern Ghouta
Syrian police units wave and give the victory sign as they patrol in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus.(AP)

The French government said on Tuesday that it is “highly likely” that evidence would “disappear” from the site of a suspected chemical attack in Syria before weapons experts arrive in the area.

Accusing Russia and Syria of denying access to experts dispatched to probe the alleged poison gas attack in Douma on April 7, the French foreign ministry said: “It is highly likely that evidence and essential elements will disappear from the site, which is completely controlled by the Russian and Syrian armies.”

Russia has denied trying to obstruct the investigation and said inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who arrived in Damascus on Saturday, are due to visit Douma on Wednesday.

Russian military police officers check a weapons factory left behind by members of the Army of Islam group, in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus. (AP)

In a statement, the French foreign ministry said it was “essential that Syria give full, immediate and unimpeded access to all the OPCW’s requests, whether relating to sites to visit, people to interview or documents to consult”.

The warning came as the US ambassador to the OPCW, Ken Ward, voiced fears that Moscow might already have “tampered with” evidence at the site. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov rejected the allegation, telling the BBC: “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.”

Lavrov charged that it was the United States, France and Britain who were “standing in the way” of the investigation by ordering air strikes “in the blink of an eye” before the OPCW team had a chance to do their work.

The three Western powers fired around 100 missiles at three suspected chemical facilities in Syria on Saturday, saying they had proof that the government of President Bashar al-Assad was behind the Douma attack.

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the strikes aimed to defend “the honour of the international community” in the face of Syria’s suspected violation of the UN Chemical Weapons Convention.

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 18:32 IST