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Chemical inspectors launch probe in Syria after Western strikes

AFP  |  Damascus 

International inspectors launched their investigation today into an near that prompted an unprecedented wave of Western strikes against Syria's regime.

Russian Vladimir Putin, the regime's top ally, warned that fresh strikes would spark "chaos", but promised economic sanctions on rather than further military action.

US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting development and storage facilities Saturday, but the buildings were mostly empty and the Western trio swiftly reverted to its diplomatic efforts.

US lauded the "perfectly executed" strike, the biggest international attack on Bashar al-Assad's regime during Syria's seven-year war, but both and Syria's opposition rubbished its impact.

A team of from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, arrived in hours after the strikes.

They have been tasked with investigating the site of the alleged April 7 attack in the town of Douma, just east of the capital Damascus, which Western powers said involved chlorine and sarin and killed dozens.

They arrived in Damascus on Saturday but there were no reports they had travelled to to begin their field work, as announced by a senior Syrian earlier.

An saw enter the where the are staying and leave three hours later. The fact-finding team usually starts its investigation by meeting top officials but any talks were held behind closed doors and both parties imposed a

"We will ensure they can work professionally, objectively, impartially and free of any pressure," told AFP.

The OPCW itself had declared that the Syrian government's stockpile had been removed in 2014, only to confirm later that sarin was used in a 2017 attack in the northern town of

The inspectors will face a difficult task, with all key players having pre-empted their findings, including Western powers, which justified the strikes by claiming they already had proof such weapons were used.

The OPCW team will also have to deal with the risk that evidence may have been removed from the site, which lies in an area that has been controlled by Russian military police and Syrian forces over the past week.

"That possibility always has to be taken into account, and investigators will look for evidence that shows whether the has been tampered with," Ralf Trapp, a of a previous OPCW mission to Syria, told AFP.

The late Saturday declared Eastern Ghouta, the former rebel enclave of which is the main town, fully retaken after a blistering two-month assault.

Wresting back the opposition stronghold on the doorstep of Damascus had been a priority for the resurgent regime.

Combined with the limited scope of Saturday's strikes, the victory declaration triggered ecstatic editorials in

"is more than ever an Arab and international leader," the pro-regime daily wrote.

US leader Trump hailed the pre-dawn strikes that lit up the sky around Damascus and exclaimed "Mission Accomplished" on

His claim drew scoffing comments from his critics and parallels with the war and the premature victory speech his predecessor gave on an almost exactly 15 years ago.

"The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished,'" Trump tweeted on Sunday.

According to American officials, the operation involved three US destroyers, a French frigate and a US submarine located in the Red Sea, the Gulf and the

British Tornado and Typhoon warplanes, American bombers and French Rafale jets also took part in the strikes.

The said no further action was planned but Washington's to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned that the US was "locked and loaded" should another occur.

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

First Published: Mon, April 16 2018. 00:00 IST