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OPCW experts expected to arrive in Douma on Wednesday

A handout picture released by Syria's official news agency SANA shows people walking down a street in Eastern Ghouta's main town of Douma after Syrian government forces entered the last area of the rebel bastion
STRINGER (SANA/AFP)

A team of chemical weapons experts is expected to arrive in the Syrian town of Douma on Wednesday to probe an alleged poison gas attack, Russian officials told reporters, after Moscow was accused of "tampering" with evidence.

"Tomorrow (Tuesday) the security services of the United Nations ... will test the routes. And on Wednesday is when we plan the arrival of the OPCW experts," a senior Russian official said at a press conference in the Russian embassy in The Hague, explaining the roads were still being cleared of mines.

The press conference also came after the he Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons held emergency talks on the alleged atrocity, which prompted Western air strikes on Syria on Saturday, and Russia and Syria stalled access to Douma citing security concerns.

Some 42 people are believed to have died in Douma -- the last holdout in the rebel enclave of Ghouta -- after being exposed to gas which the US believes was chlorine, and open sources suggested was dropped by a helicopter.

The OPCW chief, Ahmet Uzumcu, told the meeting his inspectors had failed to gain access to the site.

"The team has not yet deployed to Douma," Uzumcu told the organization's emergency talks.

Russian and Syrian officials "have informed the... team that there were still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place," he added.

Guus Schoonewille (ANP/AFP)

The US envoy told the closed-door talks that Russia may have "tampered" with the site of the attack.

"It is our understanding the Russians may have visited the attack site," US ambassador Ken Ward said.

"We are concerned they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission to conduct an effective investigation," he added in his speech, which was shared with news agencies.

"It is long overdue that this council condemns the Syrian government for its reign of chemical terror and demands international accountability for those responsible for these heinous acts," Ward was quoted as saying.

Britain's envoy Peter Wilson urged the meeting "to act to hold perpetrators to account", saying failure to do so "will only risk further barbaric use of chemical weapons, in Syria and beyond".

The Kremlin dismissed accusations of tampering and delay as "groundless", and earlier vowed not to interfere with the work of the OPCW fact-finding mission in Douma, which is currently in Syria to probe the alleged attack on Douma in which 40 people died.

"We consider such accusations against Russia to be groundless," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Moscow was in favor of "an impartial investigation".

"Russia confirms its commitment to ensure safe and security of the mission and will not interfere in its work," said am earlier statement from the Russian embassy in The Hague, where the global watchdog is headquartered.

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