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As U.S. response looms, Russia and Syria urge inspection of attack site

From Reuters - April 10, 2018

BEIRUT/MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assads government has invited international inspectors to send a team to Syria to investigate an alleged chemical attack in the town of Douma in a move apparently aimed at averting possible Western military action over the incident.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility was established. The White House said Trump will now not travel on Friday to the Summit of the Americas in Peru so that he can focus on the crisis.

At least 60 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Saturdays suspected attack on Douma, then still occupied by rebel forces, according to a Syrian relief group.

The Syrian government and Russia said there was no evidence that a gas attack had taken place and the claim was bogus.

But the incident has thrust Syrias seven-year-old conflict back to the forefront of international concern.

Adding to the volatile situation, Iran, Assads main ally along with Russia, threatened to respond to an air strike on a Syrian military base on Monday that Tehran, Damascus and Moscow have blamed on Israel.

Meanwhile on the ground, thousands of militants and their families arrived in rebel-held northwestern Syria after surrendering Douma to government forces. The evacuation deal restores Assads control over the entire eastern Ghouta - formerly the biggest rebel bastion near Damascus.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is already at work trying to establish what exactly took place in Douma.

But whether a team would try to get there was unclear. OPCW inspectors have been attacked on two previous missions to the sites of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Syria is keen on cooperating with the OPCW to uncover the truth behind the allegations that some Western sides have been advertising to justify their aggressive intentions, state news agency SANA said, quoting an official Foreign Ministry source.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin would submit a resolution to the U.N. Security Council proposing that the OPCW investigate the alleged attack.

MILITARY OPTIONS

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said there was no threat of the situation in Syria resulting in a military clash between Russia and the United States.

TASS news agency quoted Bogdanov as saying Russia and U.S. officials had working contacts over Syria and he believed common sense would prevail.

On Monday, Trump told a meeting of military leaders and national security advisers in Washington that he would take a decision that night or shortly after on a response, and that the United States had a lot of options militarily on Syria.

But we cant let atrocities like we all witnessed ... we cant let that happen in our world ... especially when were able to because of the power of the United States, the power of our country, were able to stop it, Trump said.

The United States has requested the U.N. Security Council vote at 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Tuesday on a proposal for a new inquiry on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, diplomats said. The resolution was likely to be vetoed by Syrian ally Russia.

At a meeting on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington would respond to the suspected attack whether the Security Council acted or not.

This is basically a diplomatic set-up, said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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