Syria envoy alleges rebel gas attack, demands U.N. investigate

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 28, 2013 1:49 PM
Syria envoy alleges rebel gas attack, demands U.N. investigate

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria's U.N. envoy asked the United Nations on Wednesday to order chemical experts in Damascus to investigate three rebel attacks in which he said Syrian troops "inhaled poisonous gas," while Britain pushed for the Security Council to act on the crisis.

The United Nations has received at least 14 reports of possible chemical weapons use during Syria's two-year civil war, and after months of diplomatic wrangling a team of experts, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria on August 18.

The U.N. team led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom was initially going to look into three of those incidents, but its priority became investigating an alleged gas attack in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus last week, which activists say killed hundreds of civilians.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said he has written to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ask that Sellstrom's team also "investigate three heinous incidents that took place in the countryside of Damascus on (August) 22nd, 24th and 25th where members of the Syrian army inhaled poisonous gas."

The U.N. investigators are due to leave Syria this weekend and U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the world body had not asked the Syrian government for an extension to the 14-day visit.

"The team has the ability to investigate other incidents as needed," Haq said, adding that the initial three incidents they were due to examine when they arrived in Syria would be investigated "in due course."

Western powers are planning possible military action in Syria in order to punish the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, who they blame for last week's attack. Western action, however, seems less likely as long as the U.N. experts remain in Syria.

The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied doing so. The U.N. inquiry is trying to establish only whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

Enough's Enough
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Ja'afari's request to Ban on Wednesday came as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France - met to discuss a British draft resolution that would condemn Assad's government for carrying out the attack last week.

The draft resolution would authorize "all necessary force" to protect civilians from chemical weapons - giving approval for military action in Syria by western powers.

The meeting of the five Security Council members lasted about an hour and all of the envoys declined to comment afterwards. Moscow said earlier that Britain was "premature" in seeking a resolution to protect Syrian civilians.

Russia, Syria's main arms supplier, as well as China, have already vetoed three previous resolutions condemning Assad.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols; editing by Jackie Frank)