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OPCW Finally Agrees to Send Team to Syrian Site of Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack

April 29, 2017 (EIRNS)—It took them nearly a month, but the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has finally agreed to send inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun, the site in Syria where a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government is alleged to have occurred on April 4.

OPCW director general Ahmet Üzümcü announced that the Assad government has "already stated that they would support this mission, actually they have invited us to go via Damascus." He continued that

"the problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary ceasefire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do."

However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shairat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs, the base from which the attack was allegedly launched, a visit which the Syrian government and Russia have both demanded, since they argue that it would show that no chemical weapons are or were stored there.

Russia is also still insisting that a "balanced team" of experts go to both locations.

"We have seriously criticized the practice of remote investigations, which has in recent years become familiar to the OPCW mission in establishing facts of the possible use of chemical weapons,"

Mikhail Ulyanov, the head of the nonproliferation department in the Russian Foreign Ministry, said yesterday.

"We insisted that OPCW experts must visit the scene of the incident, select the samples themselves and thoroughly get to the bottom of the details,"

he stressed. He also said that the OPCW investigating team should travel to Khan Sheikhoun as soon as possible, as the time during which the presence of sarin can be detected is limited to about three weeks.

OPCW director general Üzümcü noted that the OPCW has not come to any conclusion as to who was responsible for the alleged attack, but only that sarin or a sarin-like substance was used. Pressed by journalists as to whether or not Assad still has chemical weapons, Üzümcü had to admit:

"There are claims that Syria still possesses chemical weapons, but we are not able to substantiate these claims. We are not in a position to confirm whether they have chemical weapons in their possession."