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UN experts meet Syrian officials over alleged chemical attack in Damascus

August 21, 2013, 21:19 UTC+3
On August 14, Syria agreed to receive U.N. inspectors for a probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country
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UNITED NATIONS, August 21 (Itar-Tass) - Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom, who is leading a team of U.N. experts to Syria to investigate the use of chemical weapons in the country, is in discussions with Syrian government officials following a new purported gas attack in the outskirts of Damascus.

“Professor Sellstrom is in discussions with the Syrian Government on all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s Deputy Spokesperson Eduardo del Buey on Wednesday, August 21.

He said Professor Ake Sellstrom and his team were in Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Assal as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by member states. According to the agreement reached in Damascus in July, the two parties are discussing, in parallel, other allegations and their related sites.

“The United Nations mission to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria is following the current situation in Syria carefully, and remains fully engaged in the investigation process that is mandated by the Secretary General,” Del Buey said.

He said that “the [U.N.] Secretary-General is shocked to hear the reports of the alleged use today 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.”

The deputy spokesperson quoted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as saying that “any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would violate international humanitarian law.”

U.N. chemical weapons experts started working in Syria on Monday, August 19.

The team will work in Syria for up to two weeks. This period can be extended by mutual consent, Ban said.

“The Mission will contemporaneously investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Asal as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by Member States,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

“In order to credibly establish the facts, the Mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents. This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of post-mortem examinations,” the secretary-general said.

On August 14, Syria agreed to receive U.N. inspectors for a probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country. By agreement with the Syrian government they will investigate three such instances at the same time.

The spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General, Martin Nesirky, said in early August that apart from its leader, Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom, the team of inspectors would include about 10 experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organisation.

By agreement with the official Syrian authorities, the U.N. Mission will run its investigation in three places. They have not been named so far. The U.N. Secretariat has cited security reasons for not disclosing the details of the upcoming investigation of the purported use of chemical weapons in Syria for security reasons.

However one of the places to be visited by the U.N. experts is already known. It is Aleppo’s suburb of Khan Al-Asal. The other two have not been revealed.

The focus of the mission, set up following a formal request from the Syrian government, will be an incident involving the alleged use of chemical weapons in Kfar Dael region in Khan Al-Asal area in Aleppo governorate, the U.N. said.

Ban had repeatedly urged Damascus to grant the team access to the country so that it can carry out an on-the-ground investigation into the allegations. He welcomed Damascus’ invitation to visit Syria to investigate reports about alleged use of chemical weapons in the country.

The U.N. probe into an alleged chemical attack in Aleppo, started at Damascus’ initiative, came to a halt after Western countries had pushed the U.N. Secretariat towards looking into other such instances as well. The Syrian authorities had insisted that U.N. experts should first visit Aleppo and only then, if they prove their impartiality, could they investigate other instances. As a result of the explosion of a homemade rocket with sarin in the area controlled by governmental troops near Aleppo on March 19 of this year, 26 people died, including 16 Syrian army troops. The rest were civilians.

The U.N. Security Council will convene later in the day for an urgent meeting following new reports about alleged chemical attacks in Syria, the Russian Mission to the U.N. told ITAR-TASS.

“At the request of several member states, an urgent meeting of the [Security] Council will be held in connection with new reports on the purported use of chemical weapons in Syria,” the mission said.

According to informed diplomatic sources, the Security Council will meet at 15:00 local time. The meeting was requested by Great Britain, France and the United States.

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