Chemical weapons inspectors denied access to Douma site

In Damascus, Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad met inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW for about three hours in the presence of Russian officers and a senior Syrian security official.

The Western countries blame Assad's government for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7 that killed up to 75 people.

"Russia and Syria have not yet allowed access to Douma", the British delegation tweeted on Sunday, adding that "unfettered access [is] essential" and "Russia and Syria must cooperate".

Mr Peskov also dismissed French President Emmanuel Macron's claims that the weekend air strikes had driven a wedge between Ankara and Moscow.

The Western trio swiftly reverted to diplomatic efforts, with leaders facing flak at home over the punitive attack.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the USA mission "has not changed" and Mr Trump wanted troops home "as quickly as possible".

The director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told a meeting of the OPCW executive council that inspectors had not been allowed to visit the town outside Damascus, the United Kingdom delegation tweeted.

The US-led strike was launched even though the OPCW fact-finding team was due to head to Douma on Saturday.

"There is no proposal on the table at the moment for further attacks because so far thank heavens the Assad regime have not been so foolish as to launch another chemical weapons attack".

The OPCW is set to meet in the Hague on Monday over the attack, although there have been no signs yet that the investigators have travelled to Douma to begin their fieldwork.

Its team on the ground also faced the risk of arriving too late to a site where much of the evidence may have always been removed or tampered with.

Kenneth Ward, the United States ambassador to the OPCW, raised these fears on Monday, drawing a denial from the Russian foreign minster, Sergei Lavrov, who told the BBC: "I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site".

Western powers say chemical substances, most likely chlorine and sarin, were used in the attack and killed at least 40 civilians.

"We will ensure they can work professionally, objectively, impartially and free of any pressure", Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Soussan told AFP.

Trump's "Mission Accomplished" tweet earned him parallels with George W. Bush's fatefully premature victory speech days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The OPCW needs a two-thirds majority to take decisions, and faces the threat of being fatally weakened as Russian Federation and the west fight over the OPCW's mandate to ascribe responsibility for attacks.

Those assertions have been denounced as lies by Western officials.

A Western draft resolution obtained by AFP at a meeting of the UN Security Council Saturday calls for unimpeded deliveries of humanitarian aid and enforcement of a ceasefire, along with demands that Syria engage in UN-led peace talks.

Syria has lived through a seven-year civil war that has killed at least half a million people and created an worldwide refugee crisis.

"For all the sound and fury of these strikes, their net effect is a slap on the wrist of Bashar al-Assad", said Nick Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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