THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The global chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday it will “shortly” deploy a fact-finding team to the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma to probe an alleged poison gas attack.
Both Syria and its ally Russia have called on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate after first responders said more than 40 people died in the suspected chemical arms attack on Douma on Saturday.
“The OPCW technical secretariat has requested the Syrian Arab Republic to make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment,” the OPCW said in a statement.
“The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly,” it added, saying the OPCW’s director general Ahmet Uzumcu wants the team “to establish facts surrounding these allegations.”
The OPCW has maintained a presence in Syria since it first set up its fact-finding mission in 2014 following repeated allegations of chemical weapons use.
But the deployment to Douma will be the first time an OPCW team has moved outside Damascus since early 2014, when their convoy was attacked en route to Kafr Zita.
The lead vehicle hit a home-made roadside bomb, and as the team was being rescued they were ambushed and two people were briefly detained.
One person was slightly injured, but the attack left the organization, mainly made up of scientists and technical experts, badly shaken.
The Russian embassy in The Hague said Tuesday it had passed along a proposal to the OPCW from Moscow “to immediately launch the investigation.”
“The Russian Federation is fully committed to provide all necessary assistance” to ensure the mission’s success as well as its “safety and security,” it told the OPCW.
“Any delay of such inspection will play on the side of those seeking to use rumors about the incident as a ‘Casus Belli’ (justification for military action) for their irresponsible actions in Syria thus pursuing their geopolitical interests,” the embassy added.
US President Donald Trump has stepped up his warnings about possible US military action after the suspected weekend attack.
News of the OPCW mission to Douma also came as the UN Security Council was due to vote later Tuesday on rival US and Russian draft resolutions in response to the alleged attack.