Watchdog sending team to probe alleged Syria gas attack

A child receiving oxygen through respirators following an alleged poison gas attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)
A child receiving oxygen through respirators following an alleged poison gas attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)

The global chemical weapons watchdog said on 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 Russian embassy in The Hague said it had passed along a proposal to the OPCW from Moscow "to immediately launch the investigation".

It said in a statement that it told the OPCW "the Russian Federation is fully committed to provide all necessary assistance" to ensure the mission's success as well as its "safety and security".

"Any delay of such inspection will play on the side of those seeking to use rumours 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 weekend attack.

News of the OPCW mission to Douma also came as the UN Security Council was due to vote later on Tuesday on rival US and Russian draft resolutions in response to the alleged attack.

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