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UN secretary-general and Russian deputy Foreign Ministry discuss Syrian situation

August 28, 2013, 18:03 UTC+3
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UNITED NATIONS, August 28 (Itar-Tass) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on Wednesday, August 28, to discuss alleged chemical attacks in Syria and the preparation of the Geneva II international conference on the resolution of the Syrian crisis.

The meeting took place in The Hague, the U.N. press centre said.

“The Secretary-General briefed the Deputy Foreign Minister on the work of the U.N. chemical weapons investigation team in Syria. They also discussed efforts to convene a political conference on Syria in Geneva,” the press centre said.

Gatilov warned that if force was used against Syria in circumvention of the U.N. Security Council, this would be a gross violation of international law.

“Certain states are ready to use force even before U.N. experts make public the results of their investigation. Our country will be committed to international law,” he said. “Modern international law allows the use of force only in exceptional cases: for self-defence and if so authorised by the U.N. Security Council. Some states see priorities in a distorted way.”

Meanwhile, U.N. experts have arrived in Zamalka, an eastern suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus, where chemical weapons were allegedly used, the Sky News television channel said.

It said the inspectors were planning to visit several settlements in the area.

In the morning, the experts left their hotel in Damascus, accompanied by six vehicles of the Syrian security forces, and headed to Al Maliha controlled by rebels.

Earlier in the day, the U.N. Secretary-General’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said information about the U.N. inspectors’ route was kept secret for security reasons.

He said the U.N. Secretariat had received enough assurances from the warring sides for the experts to do their work in the area of an alleged chemical attack.

On the first day of their work on Monday, August 26, the U.N. inspectors took samples at the site of an alleged chemical attack and talked with survivor and witnesses.

“They visited two hospitals, they interviewed witnesses, survivors and doctors, they also collected some samples, Ban said.

On the way to the site of the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, a sniper opened fire at the first vehicle in the convoy, which had clearly distinctive U.N. markings. No one was injured but the experts had to return to Damascus to replace the damaged car.

“The first vehicle of the Chemical Weapons Investigation Team was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers in the buffer zone area,” a U.N. spokesperson said in a media note.

“As the car was no longer serviceable, the Team returned safely back to the Government check-point. The Team will return to the area after replacing the vehicle,” he added.

Ban instructed Angela Kane, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, to register “a strong complaint” to the Syrian government and authorities of opposition forces so that this will never happen and the safety and security of the investigation teams will be secured.

Following Monday’s attack on the U.N. convoy, a comprehensive assessment determined that the visit should be postponed by one day in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team, the U.N. said in a note.

“The Secretary-General again urges all sides in the conflict to give safe passage and access to the Team. It is in the interest of all sides to bring factual evidence and clarity to a situation which has brought great suffering to the people of Syria. The United Nations is there to assist, but it needs the cooperation of all in order to fulfill the mandate given by the Member States,” the note said.

The Team, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, is spending up to 14 days, with a possible extension, probing the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Government at Khan al-Asal, as well as two other allegations reported by Member States. The team is working in cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW) and the U.N. World Health Organisation (WHO).

“It has to be stressed again that all sides need to extend their cooperation so that the Team can safely carry out their important work,” the U.N. said.

On the night from August 20 to August 21, several pan-Arab news channels reported that chemical weapons had been used on the eastern outskirts of Damascus. They cited sources in the armed opposition, but the official authorities and the military command denied these reports.

The reports prodded several countries into asking the U.N. Secretariat to redirect its team of experts who are investigating alleged chemical attacks in Aleppo to the outskirts of Damascus.

Rebels had earlier used chemical weapons in this area. However they claim that government troops had shelled the outskirts of Damascus last Wednesday, using ammunition containing toxic agents. The official authorities denied this as slander.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said such claims on the part of the opposition were illogical and had been fabricated.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked” to hear the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus and “is aware that a number of Member States, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed grave concern about the most recent reports of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Secretary-General reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by Member States,” his deputy spokesperson Eduardo del Buey said earlier in the day.

He quoted Ban as saying that “any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would violate international humanitarian law.”

Ban said the use of any chemical weapons in Syria would amount to a “crime against humanity” and there would be “serious consequences” for the perpetrators.

“Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law,” he said on Friday, August 23. “Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator. Once again, I call for an immediate investigation of this latest incident.”

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