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The team comprising experts and officials of the OPCW and the United Nations which came under attack yesterday has arrived back in Damascus. All members of the team are safe and well, although one driver has sustained minor injuries.
The team was en route to Kafr Zita as part of its mission to establish the facts surrounding allegations of use of chlorine in Syria. The visit was subject to a rigorous security assessment and a local ceasefire had been carefully negotiated for the day with the Government of Syria as well as with armed opposition groups in the area.
Shortly after leaving government-controlled territory, the lead vehicle in the convoy was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) sustaining severe damage. The team members were rescued and shifted to two other vehicles in the convoy which turned back to move to a safer location. While entering a built-up area the convoy was ambushed; the first vehicle was shot at from close range with automatic weapons hitting the body, windows and tires.
The occupants of the two remaining vehicles, who were briefly detained by some gunmen, were later released upon the intervention of the main opposition group with whom the ceasefire and security arrangements had been negotiated. The reunited team then returned to Damascus via Homs under Syrian Government escort.
While the situation is assessed, the OPCW fact-finding mission will continue its work by closely monitoring the situation and using all possible means to gather information and data in order to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine in Syria.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü spoke to the Head of the Mission and the Team Leader in Damascus and praised the dedication and commitment of the OPCW and UN personnel, who showed great courage in undertaking such a high-risk mission. The Director-General has strongly condemned yesterday’s attack and said that it was a sad day for the people of Syria, and for the international community, because of a blatant attempt to prevent the facts being brought to light. This will not, however, prevent the OPCW from raising its voice against the cruelty of use of toxic chemicals to kill and harm indiscriminately.
A convoy of OPCW inspectors and United Nations staff that was travelling to a site of an alleged chlorine gas attack in Syria came under attack this morning. All team members are safe and well and are travelling back to the operating base.
The OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, expressed his personal concern for the OPCW and UN staff members and repeated his call to all parties for cooperation with the mission.
"Our inspectors are in Syria to establish the facts in relation to persistent allegations of chlorine gas attacks," he said. "Their safety is our primary concern, and it is imperative that all parties to the conflict grant them safe and secure access."
Lakhdar Brahimi has announced his resignation from his position as the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, largely out of frustration at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's plans to hold an election in June.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a joint press conference with Brahimi in New York on Tuesday, said the decision would be effective from May 31.
For more than a year, Brahimi has made no secret that he is contemplating stepping down from the post as the UN and Arab League joint special representative on Syria. Brahimi told reporters a year ago that he thought about resigning every day.
Brahimi has organised two rounds of negotiations in Geneva between Assad's government and members of the opposition seeking to oust him.
While there were no breakthroughs at those talks, diplomats and UN officials said that Brahimi had wanted to continue the Geneva process to find a negotiated solution that would end the fighting, launch a political transition and begin the process of reconciliation between the supporters and opponents of Assad.
But Syria's April 21 announcement that it will hold presidential elections on June 3 dealt a severe blow to Brahimi's efforts in Geneva, diplomats said, since the vote is widely seen as a bid by Assad to defy widespread opposition and extend his grip on power.