Syria air strikes: Russia ‘not tampering’ with chemical attack site

By BBC

(BBC) – Russia has denied interfering with evidence at the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria which led to Saturday’s military intervention by the US, the UK and France.

In an interview for BBC’s Hardtalk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.”

He spoke as the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog held an urgent meeting.

Inspectors in Syria have still not gained access to Douma, it is reported.

The UK ambassador to the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), Peter Wilson, quoted the organisation’s director-general as saying they were still waiting.

The Swedish delegation cited a briefing from the director-general that said Syria and Russia were concerned that security on the ground could not be guaranteed.

The meeting in The Hague is behind closed doors but Reuters news agency reports that the American ambassador, Kenneth Ward, expressed concern the Russian forces there might have tampered with evidence.

What else did Mr Lavrov say?

The Russian foreign minister again denied the use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April.

“I cannot be impolite with the heads of other states but you quoted the leaders of France and the UK and US and, frankly speaking, all the evidence they quoted was based on media reports and social media.”

The event did not take place, he said. “What did take place was the staged thing,” he added.

Mr Lavrov also questioned why the US and its allies had carried out air strikes the day before international inspectors were due to arrive at the site.

On the air strikes, he repeated the Russian assertion that two-thirds of the more than 100 missiles fired into Syria on Saturday had failed to reach their targets.

Mr Lavrov said the “deconfliction channel” to prevent a clash between US and Russian forces had done its job and a confrontation had not been close.

But he added that Russia and the West were facing a situation worse than during the Cold War due to a lack of channels of communication between the two sides.

What else is happening today?

– EU foreign ministers have been meeting in Luxembourg. They said they understood the air strikes had “the sole objective to prevent further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people”. They called for a renewed push for peace and threatened further sanctions on the Syrian government

– UK PM Theresa May will make a statement to parliament after the opposition said it was wrong to have launched military action without consulting MPs

– The French parliament is to discuss the air strikes

– The US is expected to announce fresh economic sanctions against Russia

Emmanuel Macron’s intervention

The French president gave a wide-ranging TV interview on Sunday night saying he had persuaded US President Donald Trump not to pull troops out of Syria and instead commit “for the long term”.

The US has some 2,000 troops in eastern Syria, mainly supporting the fight against the Islamic State group.

But soon after Mr Macron’s comments, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said an early exit was still desirable.

“The US mission has not changed – the president has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible”.

What was targeted on Saturday?

The US says 105 missiles were launched and it believes none were intercepted by Syrian defences. It says Syria’s chemical weapons programme has been set back years.

The Russians say 71 missiles were shot down by Syrian systems.

One of the three sites hit was the Barzeh complex, which the US says was a centre for development, production and testing of chemical and biological weapons, although Syria denies this.

The other two were suspected chemical weapons facilities at Him Shinshar near Homs.

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