"We couldn't breathe": Inside Douma, Syria, the site of apparent chemical attack


Syria's state news agency says inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have reached the town of Douma to investigate reports of a suspected April 7 gas attack.

But by Monday, the team had still not been granted safe passage, according to the United Kingdom envoy to the OPCW, Peter Wilson.

However, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations had provided all the necessary clearances for the team to visit Douma. During a government-organized trip on Saturday, survivors spoke to the AP of the horror they witnessed from a chlorine-like substance that killed their neighbors, but they blamed the rebels for the attack, without providing any evidence.

Faisal Mekdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, said on Monday that government officials have met with the delegation, which has been in Damascus for three days, a number of times to discuss cooperation. Israel did not confirm or deny mounting the raid. "We have deployed patrolling forces in all the squares to save the citizens and to spread security", he said. He said 60,000 residents remained in the town after tens of thousands of rebels and their families left for rebel-held areas in northern Syria over the past two weeks.

On Monday, the AP visited a two-room underground shelter where Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir said 47 people were killed, including his pregnant wife and two daughters, 18-month-old Qamar and 2 1/2-year-old Nour.

So Russian soldiers have been there for a week but, for some reason, inspectors can't go in because of precision attacks that took place three days ago.

Nuseir, 25, said he ran from the shelter to a nearby clinic and fainted.

He and two other residents accused the rebel Army of Islam of carrying out the attack. Nuseir said a cylinder was found leaking the poison gas, adding that he didn't think it was dropped from the air because it still looked intact. Ahmed Abed al-Nafaa said helicopters were flying before the attack and when he reached the site, people were screaming "chlorine".

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The Russian military said last week its officers in Douma found no evidence to support reports of a gas attack.

But Russia has blocked countless resolutions against its Syrian ally and the regime has appeared determined to continue its military reconquest of the country. The team arrived in Syria on Saturday.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad said Monday his country was ready to facilitate the OPCW team in any way to carry out its mission, the state-run SANA news agency reported, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not respond directly to CNN's question on whether Russian Federation had blocked the experts.

The say the airstrikes last Saturday by the three nations were "limited, proportionate and necessary" and followed "only after exhausting every possible diplomatic option to uphold the worldwide norm against the use of chemical weapons".

But in an interview for BBC's Hardtalk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site". Peskov said only that Russian Federation was against "groundless" accusations about who was responsible for the attack. More than 100 Russian diplomats were expelled from more than 20 countries in March over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy on British soil, which the United Kingdom and USA has blamed on the Russian government. "I can guarantee that Russian Federation has not tampered with the site", he told the BBC. The British delegation of the OPCW inspection team tweeted that Russian Federation and Syria were not cooperating with the inspectors.

Last year, while looking into further allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, investigators did not visit the town of Khan Sheikhoun because of security fears.

Putin, the Kremlin added, stressed that if "such actions, carried out in violation of the UN Charter, continue, it will inevitably lead to chaos in worldwide relations".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes were a "clear message" to Assad, Russia and Iran that chemical weapons use is not acceptable and that the allies would not stand idle.