Russia slammed for 'stunt' of presenting unharmed Syrians to gas attack probe

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Western envoys criticise Russia and Syria for presenting 15 Syrians who say they saw no evidence of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta

OPCW labels are seen inside damaged house in Douma in Damascus (Reuters)
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Friday 27 April 2018 15:25 UTC
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Russia and Syria presented more than a dozen unharmed people from Ghouta, Syria, at the premises of the Organisation for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons on Thursday to support claims there was no chemical attack in the region this month.

Britain dismissed the move as a theatrical "stunt" and said allied powers including France and the United States had boycotted the closed-door briefing at The Hague in the Netherlands.

"The OPCW is not a theatre. Russia's decision to misuse it is yet another Russian attempt to undermine the OPCW's work," said British ambassador to the OPCW Peter Wilson in a statement.

French ambassador Philippe Lalliot also denounced the briefing as an "obscene masquerade".

"This masquerade only betrays the huge nervousness of those who organised it and who have the most to fear from the OPCW investigation," Lalliot said.

OPCW is not a theatre. Russia's decision to misuse it is yet another Russian attempt to undermine the OPCW's work

- British ambassador Peter Wilson

"No-one is fooled. The truth will come out."

The OPCW is investigating the deaths of dozens of people in Douma, an enclave in Ghouta, on 7 April which the United States and its allies said was caused by chemical weapons, possibly a nerve agent, used by forces of the Syrian government.

The suspected attacks led to air strikes by the US, France and Britain against sites in Syria. Both Syria and Russia have denied the accusation and said rebel forces staged the attacks.

Russia and Syria on Thursday later brought 15 Syrians to a news conference in the Hague who said they had not seen any evidence of chemical weapons being used in Ghouta.

The OPCW has also criticised the meeting in its headquarters, saying it had recommended to Russia that it should wait until its inspectors had completed their work.

One child, identified by Syrian government-provided translators as 11-year-old Hasan Diab from Ghouta, said he had been to a hospital after the attack.

"They started pouring water on me in the hospital. I don't know why," he said.

The boy resembled a child seen in a video widely shown on Western television stations after the alleged attack.

Russia's ambassador to the Netherlands said the video was "staged" by the White Helmets, a Syrian aid group that receives funding from the US and other Western governments.

OPCW investigators on the spot visited a second site in Ghouta on Wednesday to take samples.