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Chemical Weapons Experts Blocked From Site of Syria Attack, Officials Say

LONDON — Chemical weapons inspectors have been unable to reach the site of an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government on one of its own cities, officials of multiple countries said on Monday, and Western diplomats have accused Syria and Russia of preventing access.

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria on Saturday, but two days later, they still had not reached Douma, the Damascus suburb where about 70 people were killed in the attack on April 7. Syrian and Russian forces have captured the area from rebels.

Ahead of an O.P.C.W. executive council meeting in The Hague on Monday, the British delegation to the organization wrote on Twitter: “Russia & Syria have not yet allowed access to Douma. Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate.” Other Western diplomats confirmed that the team had been unable to reach the scene of the attack.

But senior Russian diplomats said that it was the United Nations, not Syria or Russia, that had prevented inspectors from entering Douma.

“The problem was the absence of the U.N. Secretariat security department’s approval for O.P.C.W. experts to visit Douma,” Sergei A. Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister of Russia, told reporters, according to the news agency Interfax.

The office of the United Nations Secretary General had no immediate response to that claim, which Western diplomats refuted.

The O.P.C.W. declined to comment, and did not even say whether its inspectors had reached Douma, saying in a statement, “We are unable to share operational details.”

Western diplomats have expressed concern that Syria and its allies could be trying to remove evidence of the assault before inspectors arrive. In an interview with the BBC, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said, “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.”

The United States and its allies Britain and France used missiles on Saturday to strike targets in Syria that they said were involved in producing chemical weapons, which President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies having used. Even before the O.P.C.W. inspectors arrived in Syria, the Western allies said they had ample evidence that the country had dropped a chemical agent on Douma, and that it had used chemical weapons many times during the seven-year civil war.

East-West tensions have been high since Britain accused Russia of using a powerful nerve agent to poison a Russian former spy living in England and his daughter. The Kremlin has denied the accusation, which



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