by Jason Ditz, Anti-War.com, April 20, 2018
Inspectors on ‘Standby’ Waiting for Permission from UNDSS
Two weeks after the alleged chemical attack in Douma, chemical inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are still in Damascus on “standby,” waiting for permission to enter Douma.
Allegations continue to swirl around this delay. Britain blamed Russia, as usual. French officials on Friday also claimed Russia was “obstructing access” to the site. The OPCW, however, has made clear for days what is causing the delay.
OPCW inspectors aren’t to be allowed into Douma until the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) security team clears them to visit. So far, UNDSS has refused to do so, saying they still have concerns after Wednesday’s visit.
On a Wednesday visit, the UNDSS visited two Douma sites, but fled both times. They complained the first site was too crowded, and they were concerned about safety. There was a shooting incident at the second site, though the only casualty was a Syrian hired as extra security.
Either way, claims about security appear to be overstated. The Syrian government managed to facilitate a visit by CBS reporters days ago without incident. Many media groups seem to have no problem getting into Douma safely.
There have been numerous media attempts to turn conjecture into fact. One of the most egregious examples of war propaganda is a CNN reporter in Douma, handling and even sniffing supposed evidence.
There is no public proof that the April 7 strike took place, and a mounting amount of doubt that it didn’t, driven by inquiries from Robert Fisk. Residents within Douma have also expressed doubts about the strike.
OAN investigators weren’t able to confirm any evidence of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, either. To the extent that investigations are happening, they suggest there was no chemical strike. AFP journalists who’ve had access to Douma have gotten quotes from locals who deny a chemical attack ever happened.
Clearly, Douma was attacked by Syrian forces on that day, and the day prior. Those strikes, however, were insisted by the Syrian government to be purely conventional strikes. There is little to suggest anything else, beyond claims from the White Helmets, and Western nations claiming to have secret proof.
Syria and Russia have both denied from the start that the attack took place, and they have believed the OPCW visit would reveal the truth. Russia in particular was pushing for an investigation to take place before any rash action against Syria. Ultimately, US-led attacks on Syria happened Friday, April 13.
The US, Britain, and France all seem to anticipate the OPCW probe not going their way. The US accused Syria and Russia of plotting to tamper with Douma. There’s no evidence of tampering of any kind. Despite this, Western officials complain the UNDSS delays are making tampering easier. Others, including the French Foreign Ministry, are claiming that the evidence could just “disappear” if the OPCW doesn’t get to Douma soon.
Despite claims to support the OPCW now, it was Western officials who led the UN Security Council to reject a Russian proposal for an investigation in the first place. The US-led coalition attacked multiple sites in Syria before the investigation could happen.
Speculation is growing that the UNDSS delays are an effort to block the OPCW long enough that a conclusion that the chemical attack never took place could be contested on the grounds that they waited too long.
Russia and Syria have both been pushing for the investigation from the start, and guaranteed security for them. They’ve further deployed Russian military police to the site to deter Western strikes from targeting Douma itself and destroying evidence.The UNDSS expressed concern at the lack of Syrian government control on the ground, though this can’t be helped, as it’s part of the terms of the ceasefire in Douma that Syrian troops stay out.
Jason Ditz is news editor at Anti-War.com. © 2018 Antiwar.com.