Politics

Syria faces pressure after refusing visa for chemical arms inspector

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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A Syrian girl holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on Douma on January 22, 2018. [Hasan Mohamed/AFP]

THE HAGUE -- Western countries on Monday (October 4) called on Syria to allow in chemical arms inspectors, saying the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad continued to breach its obligations to the world's toxic weapons watchdog.

Britain, the United States and other allies also pushed Russia for clarity on last year's poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in which Western experts said the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok was used.

Syria faces fresh pressure at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) after refusing a visa for a member of an inspection team who was meant to travel to Damascus later this month.

"It is imperative that Syria issues visas... without obstruction or delay," Britain's ambassador Joanna Roper said at a meeting at The Hague of the OPCW's executive council of member states.

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A close up shot shows an empty rocket reportedly fired by Syrian regime forces on the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, on January 22, 2018. [Hasan Mohamed/AFP]

Roper also called on Syria to "explain" the fate of two chlorine cylinders identified as evidence in a reported Syrian regime chemical weapons attack on the opposition-held town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta in 2018.

Damascus recently told the OPCW the two cylinders had been destroyed in an unspecified attack on one of its own chemical weapons facilities in June this year.

More than 40 people were killed in the Douma assault, with many cases of breathing difficulties reported as "a foul odour spread in the shelled areas", local activist Mohammed al-Beik said in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

Toxic gas seeped into the bomb shelters and hideouts, he said, pointing out that the bombardment was accompanied by airstrikes that prevented the civil defence (White Helmets) from reaching the victims to offer them treatment.

OPCW inspectors later confirmed chlorine had been used in the attack, and said two cylinders likely containing the chemical had smashed into a housing block in Douma, which was held by opposition fighters at the time.

The Douma attack prompted the United States, Britain and France to launch a punitive attack on the Syrian regime's suspected chemical weapons facilities, unleashing a barrage of missiles at three facilities on April 13, 2018.

Concern over delays

OPCW director general Fernando Arias on Monday said the watchdog "noted with concern" the delays in discussions with Damascus.

The regulator would not send the inspection team to Syria unless it got visas for all members, he said.

Arias added that Syria's declaration on its remaining chemical weapons "cannot be considered accurate and complete" due to what he called "gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved".

The Syrian regime has continued to deny the use of chemical weapons and insists it has handed over its weapons stockpiles under a 2013 agreement, prompted by a suspected sarin gas attack that killed 1,400 in Eastern Ghouta.

Meanwhile, the United States and United Kingdom again called on Russia for clarity following the poisoning of jailed Kremlin critic Navalny a year ago. Moscow has always denied involvement.

"The Russian Federation should explain the use of a chemical weapon against Mr Navalny on its soil, declare its remaining chemical weapons... including Novichok agents," US ambassador Joseph Manso said in a statement.

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