OPCW experts to reach Syria's Douma on April 18 - Russian defense ministry


"The targeted U.S., French, and United Kingdom air strikes on chemical-weapons facilities in Syria were specific measures having been taken with the sole objective to prevent the further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people", it said.

A team of chemical weapons experts is expected to arrive in the Syrian town of Douma on Wednesday to probe an alleged poison gas attack, Russian officials told reporters, after Moscow was accused of "tampering" with evidence.

"It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site", US Ambassador Kenneth Ward said at an OPCW meeting in The Hague on Monday.

Britain's Ambassador Peter Wilson said in The Hague that the United Nations had cleared the inspectors to go but they had been unable to reach Douma because Syria and Russian Federation had been unable to guarantee their safety.

"We consider such accusations against Russian Federation to be groundless", President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Moscow was in favor of "an impartial investigation".

The missiles that US, French, and British warships fired on suspected chemical facilities Saturday constituted the biggest Western attack against the regime in the seven-year war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The suspected attack in Douma, outside Damascus, in which the World Health Organization has said 43 people who died suffered "symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals", occurred on April 7.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Moscow had interfered with any evidence.

Following weekend missile strikes on Syria by the US, France, and Britain, Russia traded accusations with Western nations on Monday, dismissing as "a blatant lie" accusations that Moscow was hindering the investigation in Douma.

"We called for an objective investigation".

Kenneth Ward, the USA ambassador to the OPCW, raised these fears on Monday, drawing a denial from the Russian foreign minster, Sergei Lavrov, who told the BBC: "I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site". "Therefore, allegations of this kind against Russian Federation are groundless", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Douma was the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and is the site of the alleged gas attack that prompted a volley of Western air strikes on Saturday.

"Syria reiterated its full readiness to coordinate and to facilitate the delegation's work", he was quoted as saying by the official state agency SANA. European Union foreign ministers threatened similar measures.

"I think everyone is going to feel it at this point", she added.