BEIRUT (AP) — A United Nations official says a U.N. team on a security mission to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria was fired upon and had to return to its base in Damascus.
The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the shooting occurred during a site visit to Douma on Tuesday, ahead of an expected visit to the area by a team of chemical weapons experts who have been delayed for days.
Independent experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are still waiting to visit the town, 11 days after the alleged attack took place. They arrived in Damascus on a fact-finding mission on Saturday.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told a closed-door meeting of his organization that it remains unclear when the team will be able to deploy to Douma, U.K. Ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters in The Hague.
Uzumcu said on Monday that the Syrian government and its ally Russia were blocking his team from visiting Douma.
Russia and the Syrian government deny responsibility for the alleged attack.
__ Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations
Syrian state media say rebels in a town northeast of Damascus are handing over their weapons as part of an agreement reached with the Syrian government.
Al-Ikhbariya TV says the fighters from the Army of Islam rebel group and their families have begun evacuating the town of Dumayr, bound for opposition-held areas in the north as part of the agreement. The Syrian military would then enter the town.
It says the total number of evacuees has reached 5,000, including 1,500 gunmen. It also showed footage of what it says are weapons handed over to the Syrian military.
Dumayr is near the eastern Ghouta region, which came under full government control last week after a weekslong offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.
International chemical weapons inspectors do not appear to have visited the site of a suspected attack in Syria after days of delays by Syrian and Russian authorities.
Syrian state media reported Tuesday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had entered the town of Douma, but Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, later said that only a U.N. advance security team had entered.
The U.S. State Department has accused the Syrian government and its ally Russia of trying to cover up the alleged April 7 attack. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday the U.S. did not believe the inspectors had entered Douma, and that the evidence is at risk of decaying as delays drag on.
There was no comment from the OPCW or the U.N. on Wednesday.