UN Team In Syria Fired Upon While Visiting Suspected Chemical Attack Sites

| April 19 , 2018 , 10:30 IST

A United Nations team in Syria doing reconnaissance before inspectors visit the sites of suspected chemical weapons attack were fired upon after which they were forced to withdraw, and officials say that it is not clear when the inspectors would be able to go in again, media reported on Thursday.

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) to investigate reports of a suspected chemical attack in Syria's Douma on April 7 which killed 70 people.

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The UNDSS had decided to conduct reconnaissance activities at two sites in Douma before the visit of the inspectors, when they were attacked.  

"On arrival at site one, a large crowd gathered and the advice provided by the UNDSS was that the reconnaissance team should withdraw," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said at a meeting at the watchdog's headquarters.

"At site two, the team came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated. The reconnaissance team returned to Damascus," he added.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis blamed the Syrian government for the delay in the inspectors reaching the suspected chemical attacks, alleging that Syria has a history of trying to "clean up the evidence before the investigation team gets in."

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He added, "We are very much aware of the delay that the regime imposed on that delegation but we are also very much aware of how they have operated in the past and seal what they have done using chemical weapons."

An attack in Douma on April 7 resulted in the death of 70 people, which local help groups said was a chemical attack since most of the victims suffered foaming at the mouth and the nose. Most of the fatalities consisted of women and children.

The attack caused outrage internationally as the US, backed by other nations, accused the Syrian government of using chemical warfare, a claim which was denied by both Syria and its ally Russia.

Regardless, the US, UK, and France fired missiles at Syrian targets on Saturday in retaliation for the suspected chemical attacks.