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Syria chemical attack: Inspectors to exhume body for ‘incontrovertible proof’

May 3, 2018 at 3:03 pm

A Syrian child receives medical treatment after the Assad regime carried out a poisonous gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, Syria on 7 March 2018 [Dia Al Din Samout/Anadolu Agency]

Chemical weapons inspectors, who have called on the international community for the power to be able to apportion blame for last month’s chemical attack in Syria, are preparing to exhume bodies of Douma victims in an attempt to prove whether chlorine or nerve agent was used in the killing of more than 86 people.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said its fact-finding mission had gathered samples which have deteriorate quickly. The chemical weapons specialists believe new samples taken from the victims may provide incontrovertible proof of whether chlorine or a nerve agent such as sarin was used in the attack, which is claimed to have killed more than 86 people.

According to the FT, Chemical weapons experts and OPCW officials said the move to exhume bodies was a positive development after the US and Britain accused Syria and its ally Russia of preventing the investigators from reaching Douma.

Chemical weapons watchdog: inspectors have samples from Douma

The decision was praised by Dave Butler who is a UK based chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons specialist. Butler said it was possible victims’ bodies were buried quickly after the attack to prevent them being taken away by Assad regime fighters and to preserve any vapour from chemicals in the skin, the FT reported.

“If I were the inspectors I would want to take a couple of whole bodies back to the laboratory for a complete autopsy,” said Butler.

“Only in this way would they be able to establish if there were any other chemicals other than chlorine used in the attack.”

Butler also raised concerns over the limitation of the OPCW, which was set up 21 years ago to police the international chemical weapons convention. The international watchdog does not possess the power to initiate investigations.

Pentagon: Syria retains limited capability for chemical attack

OPCW head, Uzumcu, echoed the sentiments saying that the body does not have a mandate to attribute blame for attacks and that he was now pushing for the watchdog to be given such powers.

“It’s a serious gap,” he told the FT. “The international community has to address this.”