Douma visit postponed after gunfire at experts

Austria's Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Members of a United Nations security team came under small-arms fire and an explosive was detonated as they tried to carry out a reconnaissance mission to a Syrian town awaiting chemical weapons inspectors.

The United Nations says further steps are needed to secure the suspected site of a chemical attack in Douma and a security team will need to make another visit before a fact-finding mission can go there.

A Syrian security employee was slightly wounded in the crossfire on Tuesday, the Russian military said, but no Russian servicemen were at the site of the attack.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis blamed the Syrian government for delays in inspectors reaching the sites and said it has a history of trying to "clean up the evidence before the investigation team gets in".

The global chemical arms watchdog, Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said Wednesday that its fact-finding mission (FMM) team has not yet been deployed in Douma, Syria.

Russia's military says a Syrian security employee was wounded in an attack on a United Nations team as it was on a security mission to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack just outside Damascus. Russian Federation and its ally deny that.

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The Syrian government stepped up its efforts on Thursday to retake the opposition's last besieged enclaves, as rebels prepared to withdraw from one and a newspaper reported an ultimatum against another.

The town is under the protection of Russia's military police.

Dumayr is in the Qalamoun mountains, near the eastern Ghouta region which came under full government control last week after a weeks-long offensive and an alleged chemical weapons attack.

But while Syria and its ally Russian Federation have denied the attack even took place, one woman speaking in a refugee camp near Aleppo said she was gassed with chlorine.

The U.S., France and Britain struck against suspected chemical weapons facilities belonging to the Syrian government on Saturday, after concluding that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces were behind the attack, though they have not made that evidence public.

First responders and activists say more than 40 people were killed the night of the attack, many found with foam around their mouths, a sign of suffocation.

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Syrian state media said Tuesday that inspectors had entered Douma. Its job is to determine whether a chemical weapons attack occurred; it can not assign blame.

Several experts have said it was likely that Russian and Syrian forces that now control Douma have tried to remove or tampered with incriminating evidence.

Fighters from the Army of Islam and their families were to leave the town of Dumayr as part of the arrangement, the state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV station said. They say civilians should not be forced out of their homes in war.

"We already have a subtitled version of this report", Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said on state channel Rossiya 1 today.

Syrian mainstream opposition leader Nasr al Hariri accused in a press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh the Syrian government of seeking a military solution.

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