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UN to investigate alleged chemical attack in Syria - Ban Ki-moon

Published time: March 21, 2013 13:08
Edited time: March 21, 2013 15:59
Woman and a girl rest on a mattress at a hospital in the Khan al-Assal region in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria's government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time on March 19, 2013 (AFP Photo / HO-SANA)

Woman and a girl rest on a mattress at a hospital in the Khan al-Assal region in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria's government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time on March 19, 2013 (AFP Photo / HO-SANA)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Aleppo will start as soon as possible. Official Damascus and the rebels are trading the blame for allegedly using a missile with chemical damage agent on Tuesday.

The statement made by the UN secretary-general became a response to the official request made by Syrian authorities on Wednesday to appoint an independent mission to investigate the March 19 chemical attack on the outskirts of Aleppo that claimed lives of at least 25 people.

"I have decided to conduct a United Nations investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria," Ban Ki-moon told reporters, specifying that the investigation will focus on the Aleppo attack, "the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government."

The UN investigators will cooperate with experts with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

"I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons," Ban acknowledged.

The UN decision to investigate the Aleppo chemical attack as a single case contradicts the position of Britain and France, which followed the claims of the Syrian opposition saying that there were two chemical weapons attacks, one in Aleppo and another in Damascus, demanding that both be investigated simultaneously. 

According to Churkin, Moscow hopes that the US and France are not going to protract or hamper the UN investigation into the Aleppo chemical attack in Syria.

“I expressed hope that their initiatives are not attempts to postpone, hamper or prevent the investigation into what happened on March 19, because this issue needs urgent attention,” Churkin said.

British Deputy Ambassador Philip Parham openly questioned the credibility of the Syrian authorities.

"It is the Syrian regime which has stockpiles of chemical weapons and material in Syria," he said.

"It is worth just remembering how many distortions and falsehoods we have been hearing from the Syrian regime over the last two years."

Churkin questioned the allegations about a second attack in Damascus, saying that “instead of launching those propaganda balloons I think it's much better to get our focus right."

"As far as I know there is only one allegation of the use of chemical weapons ... there have been no other allegations,” he said.

Three boys rest on cushions laid on the floor of a hospital in the Khan al-Assal region in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria's government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time on March 19, 2013 (AFP Photo / HO-SANA)

Meanwhile, Russia is ready to send experts to Syria to help investigation of the incident, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday.

On Wednesday, both Syrian government and rebel forces called for an international investigation into the incident. Damascus claimed rebels fired a rocket filled with chemical gas, while the opposition denies the accusations, pointing at Assad’s forces.

Shortly after the strike, locals complained about a strong smell of chlorine near the epicenter, many reported breathing difficulties.

Those supporting Damascus say the area struck by the rocket was under government control and hosts a government forces military base, which has been under rebel attacks for weeks.

The international reaction to the incident was mixed, with most countries saying the nature of the attack needs to be thoroughly investigated.

Britain, however, went beyond words, reportedly preparing package of chemical weapons detection and protection kits for Syria. The shipment was made possible after the EU recently reviewed the arms embargo to Syria and allowed supply of non-lethal support for the protection of civilians.

Moscow expressed concerns on Thursday that Syrian opposition is determined to attain international interference in the Syrian conflict.

“The opposition has set a goal to attain direct foreign interference into the conflict. This is very concerning,” said Aleksandr Lukashevich, spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

The military conflict in Syria has been unfolding for over two years now. So far internal and international peace keeping efforts have not succeeded. According to the UN, the death toll from the conflict reached 70,000 by the end of the second year of the popular uprising.