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Syria ‘ready’ for UN to investigate chemical arms use

Published time: May 09, 2013 21:57
People are brought into 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. The opposition denied the claim, saying instead that government forces might have used banned weapons.(AFP Photo / HO-SANA)

People are brought into 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. The opposition denied the claim, saying instead that government forces might have used banned weapons.(AFP Photo / HO-SANA)

Damascus is ready to have the UN investigation team inquire into chemical weapons alleged use in Syria, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad told AFP. Syria will “respond immediately” to any new Israeli attack on its territory, he added.

“We were ready and we are always ready, right now, to receive the delegation that was set up by (UN chief) Ban Ki-moon to investigate what happened in Khan al-Assal,” Muqdad said, referring to the March 19 incident near Aleppo.

More than 30 people died in Khan al-Assal incident, and reports of strong chlorine-like smell at the site quickly spread in the media.

Damascus was the first to ask for the UN investigation, accusing the opposition fighters of launching a chemical weapon attack. Syrian rebel groups denied the accusations, in turn blaming government forces.

The UN fact-finding team was assembled and started gathering and analyzing available information. However, the investigation has largely become stalled with no conclusive findings,”as a group of Western nations insisted on a different, more thorough kind of inquiry going beyond the Khan al-Assal case.

Such an investigation would include an inquiry into the alleged chemical weapons use in Homs in December 2012, which the Syrian opposition has blamed the government for. It also requires access to military objects the UN said Damascus was unwilling to give.

The UN has also decided to exclude Russian and Chinese experts from the investigation team, with Syria protesting this decision.

Russia has repeatedly urged not to delay the investigation, with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently warning nations not to get captive to rumors until there are any definite findings.

Some Western countries, however – most notable the UK and the US – have persistently claimed that “limited but persuasive information” allegedly proves “with varying degrees of confidence” the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces were behind the chemical weapons use. The most recent wording used by British Prime Minister David Cameron was that “chemical weapons use in Syria is very likely to have been initiated by the regime.”

But so far, “no one has presented any proof for these claims,” the Russian Foreign Ministry has stated. “The intelligence agencies, including the ones of our Western partners, said that these statements lacked any detailed proof whatsoever,” Sergey Lavrov stressed, as he criticized those nations attempting to “prevent the UN Secretary General from a simple and direct answer to a simple and direct question.”

‘No way Syria will allow this to happen again’

Speaking of the last week’s Israeli strike, the Syrian official said that any new attack on the country’s territory would trigger an immediate military reaction.

“The instruction has been made to respond immediately to any new Israeli attack without (additional) instruction from any higher leadership, and our retaliation will be strong and will be painful against Israel,” Muqdad has stressed.

Referring to the claims that the strike targeted a transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah militants, Muqdad said Israel “absolutely did not achieve its objective and lied when it said it was are targeting Hezbollah.”

There is “no way Syria will allow this to happen again,” the Syrian official added.

Israel, repeatedly warned it will intervene to prevent the weapons transfer to Hezbollah, has targeted military sites near the capital Damascus early on Friday morning and again early on Sunday morning, with at least 42 soldiers reported dead in the second strike.

Russia said it is “seriously concerned” about the strikes on Damascus, calling the reports “alarming.”

During US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Moscow the two states reiterated their commitment to the Syria peace plan – known as the Geneva Communiqué – and called for a follow-up meeting on the conference by the end of May.

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