RUSSIAN and Syrian officials have blocked inspectors from the site of the suspected chemical attack in Douma.

Researchers for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been in Syria since the end of last week and were due to investigate the the Eastern Ghouta town where it’s claimed the regime of Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to wipe out what was the last rebel held enclave in East Ghouta.

According to the World Health Organisation’s partners, the attack on April 7 saw 500 people injured showing symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.

Reports suggest around 40 men, women and children have been killed by the chemical attack.

Updating an emergency meeting of the OPCW executive council in the Hague yesterday, Ahmet Uzumcu, the group’s director general said the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) “has not yet deployed to Douma” as Syrian and the Russian officials say there are “still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place”.

Instead, he added, the Syrian government offered up 22 witnesses for the inspectors to interview.

Uzumcu said he hoped his team would be able to “deploy to Douma as soon as possible. “

Russia blamed the UN, saying the problem was that the OPCW experts didn’t have the proper permits to visit the Douma war zones.

Kenneth Ward, the US ambassador to the OPCW, said the Russians had been at the chemical attack site for days. He suggested they could have interfered with the evidence.

“It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site. It is our concern that they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission to conduct an effective investigation,” Ward told the meeting.

That was flatly denied by Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who told the BBC: “I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site.

“I cannot be impolite with the heads of other states but you quoted the leaders of France and the UK and US and, frankly speaking, all the evidence they quoted was based on media reports and social media,” he added.

His envoy at OPCW repeated the claim that the attack had been staged by the British.

Aleksandr Shulgin told the meeting: “We have not just a ‘high level of confidence,’ as our Western partners uniformly put it; we have irrefutable proof that there was no chemical attack in Douma on April 7.”

The diplomat said the incident had been a “pre-planned false-flag attack by the British security services, which could have also been aided by their allies in Washington.”

“Things unfolded according to the pre-written scenario prepared by Washington. There’s no doubt, the Americans play ‘first fiddle’ in all of this.”

That, the British ambassador said, was “ludicrous.”

Peter Wilson told the meeting: “The attack on Douma was not reported by just a sole source in opposition to the Regime. There are multiple eye witness accounts, substantial video footage, accounts from first responders and medical evidence.

“This Council heard similar false claims from Russia and from Syria last year. They questioned the credibility of the evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

“Then they had to change their story once Syria itself had passed samples to the OPCW which Syria had already tested, and which proved that sarin had been used,” he added.

“Since 2016, Russia has sought to undermine every OPCW investigation into allegations of Regime chemical weapons use.

“Yet again, Russia is spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation designed to undermine the integrity of the OPCW’s fact finding mission.”