A man pushes a cart past damaged buildings at the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BASSAM KHABIEH)
A vehicle that appeared to have a license plate of the kind used by international organizations was in the area close to the site of the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Douma on Friday under Russian escort, a Reuters witness said.
The arrival of the vehicle comes three days after a UN security team turned back while doing reconnaissance in Douma or the visit of a team of international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Journalists were not allowed to approach the convoy that included the vehicle by Syrian security forces. The identity of the car's occupants or which organization they belonged to was not clear.
Meanwhile, the United States has said that it has credible information that Russia and Syria are trying to "sanitize" the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria while denying access to the area by international inspectors, the State Department said on Thursday.
Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had not been given access to the site of the alleged attack in the town of Douma on April 7.
"We have credible information that indicates that Russian officials are working with the Syrian regime to deny and to delay these inspectors from gaining access to Douma" Nauert told a news briefing.
"Russian officials have worked with the Syrian regime, we believe, to sanitize the locations of the suspected attacks and remove incriminating evidence of chemical weapons use," she added.
While repeating that Syria was responsible for the attacks, Nauert also said the United States had credible information that "people on the ground have been pressured by both Russia and Syria to try to change their stories."
Western countries say scores of people were gassed to death in the attack. Russia and its ally deny that.
A UN security team came under fire in Syria on Wednesday while doing reconnaissance for inspectors to visit the sites of the suspected attack.
US, British and French air strikes on Saturday to punish Assad for suspected use of chemical weapons have done nothing to slow the advance of his forces, now in their strongest position since the early months of the seven-year-old war.
But the single volley of air strikes, hitting three targets far from any frontline, had no effect on the wider war which has killed 500,000 people and made more than half of Syrians homeless.
International inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who arrived in Damascus nearly a week ago were still waiting early on Friday to visit the site of the suspected poison gas attack.
Syria and its ally Russia deny using chemical weapons in the assault on Douma. The Western countries say the Syrian government, which now controls the town, is keeping the inspectors out and may be tampering with evidence, both accusations Damascus and Moscow deny.
Physicians for Human Rights, a US-based rights group, voiced "grave concern" over reports that Douma hospital staff had faced "extreme intimidation" after the area came back under government control to stop them talking about the incident.