UN ready to set out for chemical weapons in Syria

Updated: 2013-08-01 15:14


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UNITED NATIONS - A UN inspection team is standing ready again to head for Syria to probe the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country, a long-waited breakthrough if approved by Syria.

A team of UN experts will travel to Syria "as soon as possible" to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in the war-torn Middle East country, a UN spokesman said at the UN headquarters Wednesday.

"On the basis of the information evaluated by the (UN) mission to date and to further the understanding reached with the Syrian government, the mission will travel to Syria as soon as possible to contemporaneously investigate three of the reported incidents, including Khan al-Asal," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters here.

A UN inspection team has been standing ready since April to enter Syria to check the alleged use of chemical weapons, but blocked by Damascus.

The latest announcement came after a visit by UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane and Ake Sellstrom, head of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team, to Damascus last week amid multiple allegations of chemical weapons use.

"The high representative for disarmament affairs briefed the secretary-general on the outcome of the discussions held last week...," the spokesman said.

The UN has reportedly asked for access to 13 locations in Syria where chemical weapons were purportedly used, but the Syrian government previously insisted that they investigate only Khan al-Assal.

At least 25 people were killed and 130 others wounded on March 19 when armed men fired a rocket stuffed with chemical materials at Khan al-Asal.

The Syrian government accused opposition fighters of being behind the chemical weapon attack, which was denied by the rebels, who pointed their fingers at the government.

The other two locations for the investigation have been unknown yet. The UN said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "mindful" of other reported incidents and the UN would seek clarity on those incidents.

The UN effort to investigate the possible use of chemical weapons was launched in March, after France and Britain wrote to Ban.

In early April, a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was in Cyprus ready to begin their work in Syria, but Damascus denied their access.

The team had to move to other countries to collect the related information.

Britain, France and the United States recently have presented further evidence of suspected chemical attacks in Syria and blamed them on Assad's troops.

US President Barack Obama has warned that any attempt to deploy or use chemical or biological weapons in Syria would cross a "red line."

Both conflicting sides in Syria denied using chemical weapons and accused each other.

US congressional panels reportedly have agreed to a White House plan to provide arms to the Syrian rebels.

Syrian opposition leaders were said to have met informally with UN officials and pledged to grant to chemical weapons experts access to areas they controlled.