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United Nations security team shot at in journey to chemical attack site

A UN security team was fired upon in an attempt to reach the site of a suspected chemical attack in Syria on Wednesday. (JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images)

A United Nations security team was met with gunfire in Syria on Wednesday, during a reconnaissance mission ahead of a scheduled inspection by international chemical weapons experts.

The team was traveling to Duoma, a town which Russia — Syria's strongest ally —had agreed just the day before to allow the UN to inspect.

Awaiting the all-clear to investigate the site was the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; but after the UN security team was shot at, their operation was put on hold.

Duoma is where UK officials believe roughly 75 people were killed in a gas attack in early April. Witnesses said that barrel bombs filled with chemical weapons were dropped on civilians by helicopters in the strike.

President Trump blamed the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for the gas attacks, saying: "There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council.

Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically."

On Friday, the UK and France joined the US in a coordinated military campaign that included airstrikes on the suspected attack site in Duoma.

Following the airstrikes, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said of the US and its allies that "Not even a day passed after the missile strikes when their organizers started putting forward strange and political initiatives." He went on to call America, France and Great Britain "self-appointed executioners."

Experts say that the continued delay in inspecting the site compromises any eventual investigation regarding evidence of chemical warfare.

Former weapons inspector Jerry Smith said that "Every day matters. The greater the time between when it's released and when it's detected, the chances of it being found reduces."

Kenneth Ward, US envoy to the OPCW, expressed his concerns to CNN on Monday that the site may have been "tampered with" by Russia after the assault. He said, "This raises serious questions about the ability of the (team) to do its job."

Russia had claimed the gas attack on Duoma was possibly faked or staged with the assistance of UK intelligence. On Tuesday, the Russian military reported that it had found a chemical laboratory in Duoma run by "militants."

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