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Chemical arms probe in Syria stalled due to 'security concerns'

AFP  |  The Hague 

and have stalled access to by international experts seeking to probe an there, citing security concerns, a British said today.

The claim came as the global held emergency talks on the alleged atrocity, which prompted Western air strikes on on Saturday.

The of the Organisation for the Prohibition of (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, told the closed-door meeting his inspectors had failed to gain access to the site so far, the British to the told reporters.

Uzumcu said "the Syrian regime and the Russians were citing security concerns," told a press conference.

The Russians and Syrians "have not been able to guarantee the security of the delegation to go to at this point," Wilson added, saying no timeline had been given for when they could visit.

The talks at the come two days after a wave of punitive missile strikes in launched by Western powers after the alleged April 7 toxic arms attack on

The team had been expected to begin their field work on Sunday, but they met with officials at their hotel instead and a was imposed on their schedule.

The Kremlin dismissed claims that was impeding access.

"We consider such accusations against to be groundless," Vladimir Putin's said, adding that was in favour of "an impartial investigation".

The missiles that US, French and British warships fired on Saturday constituted the biggest Western attack against the regime in the seven-year war.

The targeted sites were largely empty, and were all said to be facilities for storage or production.

In the Syrian capital, thousands of people gathered on the main to express their support for in the aftermath of the missile strikes. But at the OPCW, urged nations to boost the organisation's work so it can dismantle Syria's "secret" toxic weapons programme.

Following recent alleged attacks, "we all know, Syria has maintained a since 2013," French said.

"The facts are there, and they defy the most obscene lies and the most absurd denials," he said. He added that priority must be given to helping the OPCW "complete the dismantling of the Syrian programme".

scope of the weekend strikes and the fact that had time to remove key assets thanks to prior warning given by the West to the Syrian regime's ally Russia, have drawn scepticism however.

The trio of Western powers that carried out the strikes warned they would repeat the operation if used again, while Putin warned any fresh strikes would "provoke chaos".

With no further strikes planned for the time being, the West already appears to be shifting its focus to renewed diplomatic action, with a new resolution to be debated at the today.

"The bottom line for me is that this latest strike changed nothing," said Nabeel Khoury, a former US and currently a fellow at the think tank.

"In my opinion, it was a staged drama, orchestrated by Trump and Putin, for each to save face," he said.

The attack on Douma, in which most experts say chlorine as well as an agent such as sarin were used, killed at least 40 people, according to local medics.

fighters from the Islamist group subsequently surrendered their heavy weapons and left, saying that the forced them to accept a Russian-brokered transfer deal.

Regime forces have since entered Douma and declared the entire Eastern Ghouta region around it fully retaken, ending a five-year siege and reclaiming an opposition bastion on the edge of the capital.

Damascus and have vehemently denied that any chemical weapons were used in Douma and alleged instead that grim videos showing civilians foaming at the mouth after the attack were staged.

Syria's Deputy said several coordination meetings were held with the OPCW team, but he did not provide any further details about their schedule.

"Syria reiterated its full readiness to coordinate and to facilitate the delegation's work," he said, quoted by the official state agency

Russia also promised Monday it would not obstruct the fact-finding mission.

Russia "will not interfere in its work," the in said in a tweet.

With all key players having anticipated its findings, the faces a difficult task and the team may have arrived too late on the ground.

Russian said however: "I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, April 16 2018. 20:30 IST