The US has been unable to independently confirm that a team of inspectors has arrived at the site of a suspected chemical attack in Syria’s Douma district, the State Department said Tuesday.
“We are certainly aware that Syrian state media was reporting earlier today that the team has been able to enter Douma. We can’t independently confirm that at this time,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters at a press briefing.
“Our sources, which we consider to be reliable, indicate that the team has not yet been able to enter Douma. So that is our understanding of the situation, at least as of right now.”‘
Stating that the goal of the Syrian regime and Russia is to cover up evidence of the use of chemical weapons in the attack, Nauert noted that the longer it takes to get staff from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate soil samples on the ground, that delay will further degrade any evidence that is on the ground.
Asked whether the US still believes chemical weapons were used in Douma despite a lack of evidence so far, Nauert said they have information that leads them to believe that both chlorine and sarin gas were used in the attack.
“The United States continues to look at all of that information,” she added.
Forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime struck targets in Douma in Eastern Ghouta earlier this month using a toxic gas which left at least 78 civilians dead, according to Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets.
Following the attack, the US, UK and France jointly launched strikes Friday night targeting the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities in retaliation.
The strikes targeted a chemical weapons research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons warehouse and a command center related to chemical weapons located west of Homs, said US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford.
The Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for the last five years. Humanitarian access to the area, which is home to 400,000 people, has been completely cut off.
Over the past eight months, Assad regime forces have intensified their siege, making it nearly impossible for food or medicine to get into the district and leaving thousands of civilians in need.