U.N. team to probe sites of reported Syrian chemical weapons use

U.N. inspectors have been granted permission to probe three sites in Syria where chemical weapons are suspected to have been used in the nearly 2 1/2-year-old civil war, the world body’s chief announced Wednesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the organization secured Syrian government permission for the inspections during a visit to Damascus last week by disarmament chief Angela Kane and Ake Sellstrom, who heads the chemical weapons investigation team.

“The mission will travel to Syria as soon as possible to contemporaneously investigate three of the reported incidents, including Khan al-Assal,” Ban’s office said in a statement.

Robert Serry, U.N. special envoy for the Middle East, told the Security Council last week that his office has received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. Chemical and biological agents are considered weapons of mass destruction and their use is banned by international law that defines them as crimes against humanity.

Khan al-Assal is a village on the outskirts of Aleppo. It was taken by rebel forces last week and was under government attack Wednesday in an effort to recapture it.

The government of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and the rebel factions fighting for his ouster accuse each other of having used chemical weapons in a March 19 attack on Khan al-Assal that killed 30 people.

Assad’s government asked the U.N. to visit the village and collect evidence from the site but has resisted Ban’s request for wider access for the investigators to probe reports forwarded by the U.S., British and French governments alleging sarin gas use by government troops in spring around the battleground cities of Homs, Damascus and Aleppo.

The inspection visit, which took the U.N. authorities four months to arrange, will cover two other sites, Ban said, without naming them.

The investigation team will be charged with gathering proof of whether chemical weapons were used but not with determining which side used them if evidence of such attacks is found.


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