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UN inspectors to check data on chemical weapons use in Syria

August 19, 2013, 11:51 UTC+3
The group of UN inspectors was formed at the request of Damascus a few days after a chemical attack was staged by militants in a suburb of Aleppo
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Photo EPA/ITAR-TASS

Photo EPA/ITAR-TASS

UNITED NATIONS, August 19 (Itar-Tass) - UN experts on Monday are beginning to work in the areas of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. The inspection team led by Swedish scientist · Åke Sellström arrived in Damascus on Sunday, the UN Secretariat reported.

“The mission will start its work on Monday,” UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson Martin Nesirky said. According to him, the inspection will last for two weeks. This period may be extended upon mutual consent with the Syrian authorities.

The group of UN inspectors was formed at the request of Damascus a few days after a chemical attack was staged by militants in a suburb of Aleppo - Khan al-Assal on March 19. A total of 26 people were killed and 86 injured in the attack.

At that time, there were no signs that obstacles to the investigation of the attack would emerge. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally announced a decision to send a team of inspectors to the suburb of Aleppo. However, countries of the West immediately insisted that the United Nations experts should also check reports about the use of toxic substances in other districts of Syria, including in Homs in December 2012, and in Damascus in March 2013.

This aroused the Syrian authorities’ indignation. Accordingly, the consultation on the admission of the UN inspectors dragged on for five months, and a breakthrough was achieved only after Sellström and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane paid a visit to Damascus in July at the initiative of the Syrian authorities.

The experts are to simultaneously examine three cases of the use of chemical weapons, including the incident in Khan al-Assal. Russian specialists, who have visited the Aleppo suburb, concluded that one of the opposition groups produced a shell with the nerve gas sarin and fired it at Khan a-Assal. The results of the expert examination, conducted in accordance with international standards, were handed to the UN Secretary-General on July 9 by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin.

The UN Secretariat has not disclosed the inspectors’ destinations, other than Khan el-Assal. According to available data, two other districts have not yet been determined, largely because of the situation in Syria gripped by the bloody conflict. Last Thursday, UN Secretary-General’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told Itar-Tass that Åke Sellström is “empowered to make decisions about visiting certain places.” There is a large selection of such places, as data on 13 cases of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria have been submitted to the UN.

The UN hopes that the authorities in Damascus and the opposition forces will not obstruct the work of the experts. Khan al-Assal is controlled by the rebels, who a few weeks ago executed there about 150 soldiers and civilians.

“We’re not going to discuss issues related to security,” UN Secretary-General’s deputy spokesperson Eduardo del Buey told Itar-Tass last week. He also declined to specify whether the Sellstr·m team would be accompanied by armed guards during the trip in Syria.

The group comprises about 10 experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and World Health Organization (WHO). Their names have not been disclosed. It is only known for certain that they are not representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, Britain, China, the United States and France).

Up to now, the United Nations has studied reports of the alleged chemical attacks only on the basis of information received from the authorities of other countries. Now, the UN inspectors are to take samples, question the victims, doctors and witnesses in Syria. Within 10 days after the inspection they are to prepare a report outlining the findings of facts. The United Nations Secretariat has repeatedly emphasized that the purpose of the investigation is to determine whether toxic agents have been used, rather than to put the blame for this on one of the sides.

On the probe results, Ban Ki-moon will prepare a report to the UN Security Council, which is to determine what to do next. Given the profound difference in the views of Security Council members on the approaches to the Syrian crisis settlement, it is logical to assume that it would be difficult to come to a decision.

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