Distrust but Verify: Chemical Weapons Inspectors Collect Samples in Syria

Written by | Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

An international team of inspectors entered the Syrian town of Douma, close to the capital of Damascus, to start investigations of a suspected chemical attacks that killed dozens and triggered Western airstrikes. The team had difficulties securing a permission from the Syrian government and Russian military forces to access the area. The inspectors managed to collect samples in a hope to determine whether chemical weapons were used. The samples are going to be sent to the weapons monitors’ laboratory in Rijswijk in the Netherlands and then dispatched for analysis to the designated labs.


The inspection could help determine whether chemical weapons were used, even though the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had agreed several years ago to give them up. The Syrian regime denied the use of chemical weapons while Russia and Iran were initially also in denial, with Moscow newly claiming that the attack did take place, though blaming Syrian rebels or anti-Russian agents. Western allies, the US and the EU, in turn blamed the Syrian government for the attack. The Syrian government and Russian forces are now in control of the area.


The fact-finding mission is managed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that was set up in 2014 to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. In their work, investigators do not assign blame for any attack but instead focus on gathering facts to make a case of responsibility. Observers suspect that the chemical attacks entailed chlorine and potentially also a nerve agent. Photographs showed victims foaming at the mouth. As part of a deal to avert a strike on the regime in 2013, Bashar al-Assad had agreed to give up its stockpiles, sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and allow in inspectors. Despite the agreement, chemical attacks have continued and include the use of weaponized chlorine gas.

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