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Syrian opposition promises to ensure UN inspectors' safety in rebel-controlled areas

Published time: August 23, 2013 15:56
Edited time: August 23, 2013 18:14
A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network on August 17, 2013 shows heavily damaged buildings in Zamalka, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network on August 17, 2013 shows heavily damaged buildings in Zamalka, a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

The Syrian opposition said they will ensure the safety of UN chemical weapons experts as they pass through rebel-controlled areas, adding that their successful arrival at the site of an alleged gas attack near Damascus within 48 hours was ‘critical.’

“We will ensure the safety of the U.N. team ... It is critical that those inspectors get there within 48 hours,” Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the opposition, told a news conference in Istanbul. 

The UN inspectors requested access to Damascus suburbs “without delays” on Thursday in order to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in attacks in the country.

The statement was made the day after a gas attack was reported by opposition activists in the capital killing anywhere between ‘dozens’ to ‘1,300’, according to conflicting reports.

The Syrian government said on Thursday that it was ready to engage in “maximum” cooperation with UN experts, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.

The UN investigative team entered the country last Sunday. Three weeks ago an agreement was reached with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government regarding the three different locations that were to be examined by the mission.

Around 13 different reports of alleged chemical weapons usage in Syria have been made to the UN, and the sites are being examined in order to determine the responsible parties in the alleged attacks.

Russia provided the UN with an analysis of samples taken from western Aleppo in Khan al-Assal. The district was the site of a chemical weapons attack in March 2013 when 30 people died.  Russia’s findings so far have indicated that rebels were behind the incident.

A Syrian boy walks on the rubble of destroyed buildings in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo (AFP Photo)

The US has declared that they have their own data suggesting government forces were responsible for the attack. However, Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN commission’s inquiry into rights violations in Syria, said US records did not meet the standards required by the UN. 

According to anonymous US and allied intelligence sources, who spoke to Reuters, a preliminary assessment indicated that the alleged act was likely to have had high-level approval from President Bashar al-Assad's government. However, conclusive proof is still being sought.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that there will be “serious consequences” if the reports of chemical weapons usage turn out to be true.

“Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law,”
Ban said at a scheduled event in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Friday.

“Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator,”
he added.

A spokesperson for Ban told Reuters on Friday that he wants a “thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” into the alleged chemical gas attack.

US President Barack Obama stated on Friday that the country should tread with caution in response to the most recent apparent attack, as his aides mulled over the prospect of military action against Syria’s government. In the interview, which was his first since Wednesday’s strike, he called the reports coming out of the country “very troublesome” and a “big event of grave concern.”

Moscow has been continuing to monitor events surrounding the alleged attack, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said in a statement on Friday.

“We’re getting more new evidence that this criminal act was of a provocative nature,”
he stressed. “In particular, there are reports circulating on the Internet that the materials of the incident and accusations against government troops had been posted for several hours before the so-called attack. Thus, it was a pre-planned action.”