The world’s chemical weapons watchdog has said that a convoy of its inspectors overseeing the dismantling of Syria’s weapons programme has come under attack, but all are safe.
“All team members are safe and well and heading back to their operating base,” Michael Luhan, spokesperson for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
The Syrian government had alleged that the investigators and their drivers on a fact-finding mission had been kidnapped.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Syrian foreign ministry said six international chemical weapons investigators had been seized with their Syrian drivers in the central province of Hama.
“Terrorist groups have kidnapped five Syrian drivers and six members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team investigating the use of chlorine gas,” the ministry said.
The ministry said the team went missing as they were travelling in two vehicles from government-held Teebet al-Imam to rebel-held Kafr Zita, the scene of the alleged attack.
Luhan said the team came under attack, but declined to give further details for security reasons.
The investigating team have been probing allegations that Syrian government forces unleashed the industrial chemical on a rebel-held village in Hama province last month.
The watchdog said late last month that it would deploy a fact-finding mission to probe the allegation that Damascus had used chlorine as a weapon in breach of its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The Syrian government signed the convention last year as part of a Russian and US-brokered deal under which it pledged to destroy all of its chemical arsenal.
Syria was not required to declare its stockpile of chlorine – a toxic but weak agent – as it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.
But its use for military purposes would still be a breach of Damascus’s undertakings under the convention.