Inspectors to start investigations in Syria into suspected chemical attack


Inspectors will today start investigations on the ground into the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, as Britain, the US and France continue to finalise a response.

The team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will begin assessments in Douma one week after the assault that has sparked international outrage.

Russia continued its propaganda war by claiming it had evidence that Britain had "direct involvement" in staging the atrocity.

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Humanitarian volunteers were "seriously pressured" by the UK to speed up plans for a "provocation" in Eastern Ghouta, military chiefs in Moscow claimed.

Britain's UN ambassador Karen Pierce branded the allegations "grotesque" and a "blatant lie".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the Cold War is back "with a vengeance" as Russia, a key Syrian ally, and the United States traded fresh blows in the latest round of talks at the Security Council.


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, left open the possibility that Bashar Assad's regime was not responsible for the attack.

According to RT, Russia's state broadcaster, a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman accused London of directing the assault on Douma.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov is reported to have said: "The Russian Defence Ministry also has evidence that Britain had a direct involvement in arranging this provocation in Eastern Ghouta."

He added: "We know for certain that between April 3 and April 6 the so-called White Helmets were seriously pressured from London to speed up the provocation that they were preparing."

Russia's ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko said The White Helmets, a group of humanitarian volunteers, are supported by the British Government and are "famous for staging fake chemical attacks".

Theresa May and Donald Trump have agreed the use of chemical weapons must not go unchallenged and the Prime Minister has won the backing of her Cabinet for action to prevent their further use in Syria.

Mrs May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday evening.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister spoke to the French President Emmanuel Macron this evening about the horrific attack in Douma, Syria on Saturday.

"They agreed to keep working closely together on the international response."

At the UN Security Council, Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said there was "no credible confirmation" of a chemical attack and accused intelligence agencies of directing the attack.

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He said: "Our specialists found no traces of toxic substance use. We have information to believe that what took place was a provocation with the participation of certain countries' intelligence services."

He said the sole interest of the UK, US and France was to "oust" the Syrian government and "contain" the Russian Federation.

US ambassador Nikki Haley said: "It is Russia alone that has stopped at nothing to defend the Syrian regime's multiple uses of chemical weapons. It is Russia alone that used its veto 12 times to protect the Assad regime."

She added: "Russia can complain all it wants about fake news but no-one is buying its lies and its cover-ups."


Ministers have said it is "highly likely" Assad's regime was responsible for the attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma which reportedly left dozens dead and that there was agreement around the Cabinet table that such actions should not go "unchallenged".

The Press Association understands Mr Corbyn has received an intelligence briefing on the attack.

He told Sky News: "If there is proof the regime did it, then the regime must be held responsible. If there is proof that anybody else did it, they must be held responsible."

Asked if there were circumstances in which he would back military action, he replied: "Let's cross that bridge when we get there. My position is let's do everything we can to stop the war at the present time.

"An escalation of the war is in nobody's interests."

Further UK military intervention in Syria's appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.

My full statement:

-- Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 13, 2018

Mr Trump appeared to row back from a suggestion on Wednesday that missile strikes were imminent, insisting in his latest tweet that he had never set out a timetable for military action.

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" he wrote.

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