THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Members of an international fact-finding mission into alleged chlorine attacks in Syria were ambushed and briefly held by gunmen in rebel-held territory, the global chemical weapons watchdog said Wednesday.
Releasing for the first time details of the chilling attack on its inspectors a day earlier, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a joint OPCW-United Nations convoy was first hit by a roadside bomb and then sprayed by automatic gunfire as it headed toward Kfar Zeita, a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus.
After the lead vehicle in the convoy was severely damaged in the roadside bomb blast, the remaining vehicles turned around and headed for safer territory only to come under attack by gunmen in a built-up area, who sprayed the lead vehicle with automatic gunfire from close range, the OPCW said in a statement.
Occupants of two remaining vehicles “were briefly detained by some gunmen” but were released after intervention by Syria’s main opposition group, according to the OPCW.
The attack came despite careful preparations.
“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,” the OPCW said.
One driver sustained minor injuries in the attack. The team is now back in Damascus and vowing to continue its mission.
“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,” the OPCW said.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said the attack would not stop the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization from “raising its voice against the cruelty of use of toxic chemicals to kill and harm indiscriminately.”