The international chemical weapons watchdog has launched an investigation into a reported chemical attack near the Syrian capital Damascus that the US has blamed on the Syrian government.
The chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, made the announcement in a statement on Monday, saying the Hague-based body was responding with “grave concern” to the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians in the militant-held town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend.
The OPCW’s fact-finding mission, which was already investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s war, was gathering all available material to establish whether chemical weapons were used, the statement said.
The OPCW is to determine what chemical agent may have been used in the attack, including the possibility that a cocktail of toxins may have been dropped on Douma.
The alleged chemical attack on the Eastern Ghouta’s largest neighborhood drew international condemnation from various countries and international bodies.
Eastern Ghouta, which is home to nearly 400,000 people, fell to multiple militant groups in 2012, months after Syria plunged into crisis and has since served as a launch pad for fatal attacks against residents and infrastructure in Damascus.
The Syrian government, in a statement released late on Saturday, strongly rejected the allegation of using chemical munitions and said that the so-called Jaish al-Islam Takfiri terrorist group, which has dominant presence in Douma, was repeating the accusations “in order to accuse the Syrian Arab army, in a blatant attempt to hinder the Army’s advance.”
Meanwhile, the US State Department issued a strongly-worded statement the following day, blaming the Syrian government for purportedly conducting the attack. It also said that Russia was “ultimately bearing responsibility” for all chemical incidents in the Arab country, regardless of who carried them out.
Moscow rejected the accusations against the Syrian government as bogus reports and warned of consequences of an attack on Damascus.
The warning came after US President Donald Trump promised a “big price” to be paid for what he said was a chemical weapons attack, and a top White House official said Washington would not rule out a missile strike against the Syrian government.
The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting later on Monday at rival requests of Russia and the US following the alleged chemical attack in Syria.
UN Security Council meeting on Syria postponed
Meanwhile, a French diplomat said Monday that the UN Security Council's emergency meeting on the situation in Syria after the alleged chemical attack had been pushed back until 3:00 p.m. (1900 GMT).
“The meeting, initially set for the late morning and requested by nine of the 15 council members, has been merged with another set of talks requested by Russia on global threats to peace,” the diplomat said.
Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack takes place.
Syria surrendered its stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the US and the OPCW, which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry.
It has also consistently denied using chemical weapons over the course of the foreign-backed militancy, which gripped the country in 2011.