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Russia set to finally allow international inspectors to examine site of chemical attack in Syria

The Syrian army declared that all anti-regime forces have left Eastern Ghouta, following a two-month offensive on the rebel enclave. The Russian government has announced that it will allow international inspectors to review the site of a chemical weapons attack that occurred on the night of April 7 in Duoma, Syria. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian government has announced that it will allow international inspectors to review the site of a chemical weapons attack in Duoma, Syria. Since the attack occurred on the night of April 7, Russia has concurrently denied that any attack took place and barred any international groups from entering the area.

The inspection is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

What is the background of the attack?

On April 7, reports of a chemical attack began pouring out of the formerly rebel-held city of Duoma, in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria. As many as 500 people may have been affected by the attack. The Syrian government has since taken control of the city.

This would not be the first time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people. In 2013, a sarin gas attack on Ghouta was reported to have killed 1,400 people.

After international outcry following that incident, Assad publicly agreed to destroy his chemical weapons. Despite Assad’s promises, Reuters reported in February that several people in Ghouta were suffering from “symptoms consistent with chlorine gas exposure.”

Following this latest attack, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, and proposed a resolution that would have sent U.N. inspectors to the site of the attack. Russia used its veto on the Security Council to block that measure.

When it became apparent that the U.N. would not respond to the chemical attack, the United States, United Kingdom, and France launched a coordinated missile strike against targets in Syria. Both the United States and France have said that they have seen proof that a chemical attack took place, and that this proof was enough to justify the missile strike.

Who is inspecting the site?

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is an international organization with 192 member states. Members promise to “share the collective goal of preventing chemistry from ever again being used for warfare, thereby strengthening international security.” The OPCW will send a team of nine inspectors to the site of the attack.

Until now, Russia has prevented OPCW inspectors from gaining access to the site.

The inspectors will gather samples and interview witnesses, but under U.N. law they are forbidden from assigning blame for the attack. In November, Russia used its veto to remove the OPCW's ability to say who was responsible for an attack.

Under current rules, the OPCW will be permitted to tell only whether they can determine that an attack occurred, although now they have to run their tests 11 days after the attack took place.

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