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Crisis in Syria

Investigators say Syrian and Russian authorities blocked them from site of suspected chemical attack

Syrian and Russian authorities have reportedly blocked a watchdog group from investigating a suspected chemical attack in Syria.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an independent watchdog group, sought to visit the city of Douma, near Damascus, to investigate a recent attack, The Associated Press reports. The U.S. has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons against civilians in Douma earlier this month, killing around 40 people. Russia, a Syrian ally, has claimed that the event was staged, and both nations have denied the use of poison gas.

The OPCW tried to visit the site of the alleged attack to investigate, but local officials said that the team lacked proper permissions from the United Nations, AP reports. A U.N. spokesperson disputed that claim, telling AP that the OPCW group had been fully cleared by the U.N. to investigate in Douma.

Instead of allowing investigators to access Douma, Syrian authorities said that the OPCW team could interview a group of 22 witnesses. Officials in the U.S. are concerned that Russians may have tampered with evidence at the site, Reuters reports, a charge a Russian official denied Monday. The OPCW group planned to collect samples and document evidence, not assign blame for the incident.

The U.S. launched a series of strikes late Friday in response to the alleged chemical attack, targeting chemical weapons facilities and a research center. Russia and Syria reported that missiles were shot down and failed to cause major damage, but President Trump said the strikes were "perfectly executed." Read more at The Associated Press.