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Inspectors head to site of suspected gas attack in Syria

  • A man rides his bicycle past a banner showing Syrian President Bashar Assad in front the Ottoman-era Hijaz train station in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Thursday. AP Photo

  • Syrians shop at the Hamadiyah market in the Old City of Damascus, Syria, Thursday, April 12, 2018. The streets of Damascus were packed with people Thursday evening either going out to shop in one of the city's main markets to hanging out with families and friends at the capital's cafes, restaurants and sweets shops, people mostly appeared not concerned about a possible U.S. strike on the country going on with their lives as usual. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar

  • FILE - EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - This Sunday, April. 8, 2018 file image released by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, shows a rescue worker carrying a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. With the Middle East on edge and many fearing inadvertent triggering of regional war, it is easy to forget that two weeks ago Trump shocked advisers in declaring an intention to withdraw troops from Syria. Now, apparently angered by a suspected chemical attack, Trump is threatening imminent military strikes against the Syrian government forces he blames and rattling a saber at Syria’s patron Russia. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP, File)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian president Bashar Assad, left, meets with Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, April 12, 2018. (SANA via AP) Uncredited

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, meets with Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, April 12, 2018. (SANA via AP)

  • Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia, left, and Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations Sacha Llorenty speak to reporters in after Security Council consultations of the situation in Syria, Thursday, April 12, 2018, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Mary Altaffer

  • A woman takes a picture of her daughter in front the 7th century Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, Thursday, April 12, 2018. The streets of Damascus were packed with people Thursday evening either going out to shop in one of the city's main markets to hanging out with families and friends at the capital's cafes, restaurants and sweets shops, people mostly appeared not concerned about a possible U.S. strike on the country going on with their lives as usual. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) Hassan Ammar



Associated Press
Thursday, April 12, 2018

DAMASCUS, Syria — A team of inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog was on its way to Syria on Thursday to begin an investigation into a suspected chemical weapons attack near the capital that has brought the war-torn country to the brink of a wider conflict, amid Western threats of retaliation and Russian warnings of the potential for “a dangerous escalation.”

The fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was expected to head to Douma, where the suspected attack took place and where Russia said rebels had now capitulated to government control. The Syrian government said it would facilitate the mission’s investigation, which was to begin Saturday.

Syria and its ally, Russia, deny any such attack, which activists say killed more than 43 people last weekend.

Speaking at the United Nations on Thursday, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the top priority had to be to avert a wider war, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of a U.S.-Russia conflict. Speaking to reporters after a closed emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Nebenzia said Russia was very concerned with “the dangerous escalation” of the situation and “aggressive policies” and preparations that some governments were making — a clear reference to the Trump administration and its allies.

“We hope that there will be no point of no return — that the U.S. and their allies will refrain from military action against a sovereign state,” Nebenzia said, adding that “the danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria.”

The imminent arrival of the chemical weapons inspectors came as rebels in Douma surrendered their weapons and left the town for opposition-held areas in the north. Russia’s military said Thursday that Douma was now under full control of the Syrian government after a Russian-mediated deal secured the evacuation of the rebels and thousands of civilians after it was recaptured by Syrian forces.

Douma and the sprawling eastern Ghouta region near the capital, Damascus, had been under rebel control since 2012 and was a thorn in the side of President Bashar Assad’s government, threatening his seat of power with missiles and potential advances for years. The government’s capture of Douma, the last town held by the rebels in eastern Ghouta, marked a major victory for Assad.