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OPCW enters Syria’s Douma to probe gas attack allegation

Chemical weapons inspectors have entered the Syrian town of Douma to probe an alleged poison gas attack, according to the state-run SANA news agency.

The delegation from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) entered the town near the capital, Damascus, alongside the Syrian health minister on Wednesday, a source close to the government told Germany’s DPA news agency.

The reported toxic gas attack on Douma on April 7 sparked joint missile strikes by the United States, France and Britain on Syrian military installations.

The punitive strikes early on Saturday were launched before a fact-finding team from the OPCW was able to enter Douma and begin its field work.

Earlier on Tuesday, the mission had appeared in question.

During an emergency meeting on Monday at the OPCW’s headquarters in The Hague, Western diplomats accused the Syrian government and its Russian ally of blocking the team.

Russia denied the claims, saying parts of Douma still needed to be de-mined and said the watchdog’s inspectors would enter on Wednesday.

Yet, France and the US appeared to question the purpose of such a mission, warning that any incriminating evidence had likely been removed by now.

“It is highly likely that evidence and essential elements disappear from the site, which is completely controlled by the Russian and Syrian armies,” the French foreign ministry said.

Ken Ward, the US ambassador to the OPCW, claimed on Monday that the Russians had already visited the site and “may have tampered with it”.

The Syrian and Russian forces gained control over Douma on Saturday when rebels withdrew from the town, hours after the Western countries were finished with their air strikes.

Al Jazeera correspondent Zeina Khodr reports that even if the OPCW finds that the chemical weapons attack actually happened, there will be no retaliatory strikes.

“Because the West is threatening strikes only if a new attack happens,” she said.

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