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Chemical weapons experts enter site of attack in Syrian town

From Reuters - April 17, 2018

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Global chemical weapons inspectors finally reached the Syrian town on Tuesday where a suspected poison gas attack took place, days after the United States, Britain and France launched missile strikes to punish Damascus for it.

Syrian state television reported that the experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had entered Douma, where Western countries say scores of civilians sheltering from bombs were gassed to death on April 7.

France said it was very likely that evidence of the poison gas attack was disappearing before the inspectors could reach the site. Syria and its ally Russia deny that any chemical attack took place.

Douma is now in the hands of government forces after the last rebels withdrew just hours after U.S., French and British forces fired more than 100 missiles to hit three suspected chemical weapons development or storage sites.

Saturdays air strikes were the first coordinated Western strikes against Assads government in a seven-year war that has killed more than 500,000 people and drawn in global powers and neighbouring states.

The intervention threatened to escalate confrontation between the West and Russia but has had no significant impact on the ground, where President Bashar al-Assad is now in his strongest position since the wars early days and shows no sign of slowing down his campaign to crush the rebellion.

Graphic: Air strikes on suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites, click tmsnrt.rs/2JRHHJz

YARMOUK

The Syrian army began preparatory shelling on Tuesday for an assault on the last area outside its control near Damascus, a commander in the pro-government alliance said.

Recovering the Yarmouk camp and neighbouring areas south of the city would give Assad complete control over Syrias capital. Yarmouk, Syrias biggest camp for Palestinian refugees, has been under the control of Islamic State fighters for years. Although most residents have fled, the United Nations says several thousand remain.

Assad has benefited from Russian air power since 2015 to regain large swathes of Syria. The suspected poison gas attack creates a conundrum for Western powers, who are determined to punish Assad for using chemical weapons but have no strategy for the sort of sustained intervention that might damage him.

Damascus and Moscow have broadcast statements from hospital workers in Douma - which medical aid groups operating in rebel areas have dismissed as propaganda - saying that no chemical attack took place.

EASTERN GHOUTA

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