This much we know: someone is lying about the reported use of chlorine gas to kill dozens of Syrian civilians this month in a rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus.
Either forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria once again committed a war crime, by dropping gas cylinders on a residential building in the town of Douma on the final day of a bloody campaign to drive out Islamist rebels, or, as Syria’s ally Russia claims, the volunteer rescue workers who sounded the alarm about the attack staged distressing images of its victims to prompt air strikes by the United States, Britain and France.
Important: video from 9 April, 7:02pm showing presence of chemical gas canister in Douma. Same location as video of casualties. Also same location that Russia visited reporting ‘no sign of chemical weapons’. pic.twitter.com/Sbz64cPi4w
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) April 10, 2018
FM Lavrov: There was no “gas massacre in Ghouta”, but a show, staged from abroad, in direct support and encouragement of extremists and terrorists. pic.twitter.com/58AdlmPP0k
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) April 17, 2018
As accusations continue to swirl nearly two weeks after the attack, international experts on chemical weapons deployed to Syria to settle the matter, by gathering scientific evidence and unearthing bodies in hidden graves, have spent six days trying, and failing, to gain access to the site of the suspected attack, which is now under the control of Russian military police.
Russia has chalked the delay up to security concerns in Douma, which seems odd, given that foreign journalists were taken on a government-run tour of the town on Monday, when they were able to wander freely along streets close to the site of the reported attack.
When those journalists filed their reports, it became clear why Syrian and Russian officials might have preferred to give limited access to reporters rather than unfettered access to inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Most of the reports, for Russian and Syrian state television channels, but also for British, French, German and American outlets, featured interviews with witnesses at the medical clinic they were led to who corroborated the version of events presented last week in a Russian military video report — namely, that the victims of the attack treated there showed no signs of exposure to