Weapons inspectors have found no evidence that nerve agents were used in the deadly bombardment of a Syrian rebel holdout that prompted retaliatory airstrikes from Britain, France and the US.
At least 70 people were killed and 500 more injured in attacks on Douma in eastern Ghouta in early April, which led to accusations that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors entered Douma in the weeks after the attacks and have now revealed that two samples recovered from gas cylinders at the scene tested positive for chlorine.
The US had claimed that both sarin and chlorine were used in the attacks – but the OPCW was unable to confirm the presence of sarin or any other nerve agents.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons during the long-running civil war, although the OPCW has previously documented the systematic use of banned munitions, including sulphur mustard gas and sarin.
“The results show that no nerve agents or their degradation products were detected in the environmental samples or in the plasma samples taken from alleged casualties,” the OPCW report states.
“Along with explosive residues, various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites, for which there is full chain of custody. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing.”
No blame has been apportioned for any of the attacks in Syria investigated by the OPCW, with Russia accusing the UK of having staged the bombardment in April.
Despite facing a backlash for not allowing MPs to vote on UK involvement in the retaliatory western military action, Theresa May said at the time it was “morally and legally right” to respond.
US President Donald Trump was unapologetic for the strikes, which were focused on three chemical weapons and research facilities, describing the Syrian leader as an “animal”.
The OPCW inspection did not come until after the intervention, and inspectors faced delays upon their arrival.
Syria and Russian authorities initially prevented them from reaching the scene of the bombardment, which France suggested may result in the disappearance of key evidence.