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Who are the chemical weapons inspectors and how do they work in Syria?

Experts will assess whether or not toxic elements were used in Duma but will not point to guilty

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Who are the chemical weapons inspectors and how do they work in Syria?

The delegation of nine inspectors from Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived on Saturday in Damascus with intention of being able to work in Duma. Experts will collect evidence and conduct interviews to determine wher chemical weapons, internationally banned, were used on 7 April. Allegations that regime of Bashar al-Assad bombarded zone with lethal gas resulted in military intervention of USA, France and United Kingdom on Saturday. The report with findings of inspection will determine wher or not toxic agents were used, but would not point to culprits.

What is OPCW?

It is body responsible for monitoring application of international standards for production, storage and use of chemical weapons. Headquartered in The Hague, institution operates from 1997 and includes all UN member States with exception of four (Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan). Its annual budget is around 70 million euros and is financed with contributions from all countries, in quotas equivalent to those of UN. The organization has nearly 500 employees and in 2013 was awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

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what is your relationship with UN?

The OPCW is not a UN agency, although it is closely linked to it. Under a cooperation agreement, Inspectors travel with documents issued by UN. During Syrian war, Security Council has passed various resolutions to collaborate with OPCW in investigating use of chemical weapons and forcing Syrian regime to dismantle its arsenal. In 2015, establishment of a joint commission was approved to attribute responsibility for toxic attacks perpetrated in Syria. The conclusions blamed regime for several incidents and ISIS for having used mustard gas during its territorial expansion. The Joint Commission for blockade of Russia in Security Council could not be extended in November 2017. The United States tried again on April 10, three days after Duma's alleged attack, but Moscow again failed, so this time final report of OPCW will not lead to a subsequent attribution of responsibilities.

Which area are you going to inspect?

The experts intend to access Duma, about 10 kilometres norast of Damascus, where chemicals were allegedly bombed. The city has been controlled by rebel factions for almost six years until last Thursday, five days after alleged attack, regime's flag was waved again.

In ideal circumstances, team of experts would arrive at scene of crime hours after this occurs, as happened with investigation of poisoning suffered by Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter in March in England. On this occasion, nine inspectors will access area more than ten days after alleged attack. The United States has accused Russia of tampering with evidence since y took over Duma. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has categorically denied it. The Kremlin has also assured that its experts have already worked in area and that y have found no trace of use of toxic substances.

Enlarge photo Experts from OPCW analyze area of Salisbury where Sergey Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in mid-March. BEN STANSALL AFP

On Monday inspectors should have already acceded to Duma, but Syria and Russia postponed ir entry alleging security problems. On two previous occasions, in 2013 and 2014, experts from OPCW were shot in Syria as y tried to carry out ir work.

How do y work on ground?

The OPCW delegation would collect all possible evidence for two or three days in Duma. The interviews with victims and toilets that y attended will be, along with biomedical samples, most important evidences. The inspectors will also evaluate to a lesser extent environmental tests y extract and graphic material and documentation y give m.

"Experts are highly trained to discern between true and false evidence. They know how to conduct interviews in order to check ir aunticity, explains Alastair Hay, professor of Environmental toxicology at University of Leeds (UK). The professor, who has participated in six inspections on use of chemical weapons, believes that scene could have been easily manipulated by eliminating any dead animal, mainly birds, or disinfecting area with lye. "It is essential that experts arrive as soon as possible on two locations where chemical detonations were allegedly produced. Craters are very complicated to manipulate, " professor judged.

The tests extracted by inspectors will be sent following a strict protocol to laboratory of OPCW in Holland. It will be nine inspectors working on ground to prepare final report, which takes several months.

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