Syria opposition urges UN to act over chemical arms

Syria’s opposition on Friday urged the UN Security Council to take immediate action after the United States said for the first time the regime probably used chemical weapons.

By (AFP)

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Published: Fri 26 Apr 2013, 4:39 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 5:27 PM

The call came as British Prime Minister David Cameron said that growing evidence of the use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad was “extremely serious” and called for increased foreign pressure on the Syrian regime.

“It is time for the UN Security Council to act” on Syria, an official from the main opposition National Coalition said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

The UN Security Council has been stalled over Syria for more than two years, with members Russia and China backing Assad and vetoing several draft resolutions that would have imposed sanctions on the regime.

“This is a massive issue, and the Security Council’s paralysis over Syria is no excuse,” the Coalition official said.

“The UN needs to immediately investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Should it find the regime used such weapons, it must act immediately, at least by imposing a no-fly zone,” he added.

“If the Security Council cannot break its paralysis, proof of the use of chemical weapons by the regime would open the way for others, such as NATO, to act.”

The National Coalition has accused the regime of using chemical weapons in the northern province of Aleppo, in Homs in the centre of Syria and in rebel-held areas near Damascus.

On Thursday, the United States said for the first time that Syria had likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces, but emphasised spy agencies were still not 100 percent sure of the assessment.

US intelligence services had been investigating reports that Assad’s forces had used chemical arms — a move President Barack Obama has said would cross a “red line”.

A senior White House official said “all options are on the table” should use of the weapons be confirmed, but a US defence official stressed that a military intervention was not imminent and signalled spy agencies had differing opinions.

“Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

A US defence official said the phrase “varying degrees of confidence” is a term commonly used by the intelligence community to indicate disagreement among various agencies.

British Premier Cameron said Friday that the international response would likely be political rather than military.

“This is extremely serious. And I think what President Obama said was absolutely right, that this should form for the international community a red line for us to do more,” Cameron told the BBC.

“In my view what we need to do... is shape that opposition, work with them, train them, mentor them, help them so we put the pressure on the regime and so we can bring this to an end,” he said.

Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed it also had “limited but persuasive” evidence of the use of chemical agents in the conflict which the UN says has left more than 70,000 dead since March 2011.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Thursday renewed an “urgent call” for Syria to let inspectors into the country.

Syria asked for a UN investigation but has since refused to let a UN team waiting in the region into the country.

Assad’s government, which has systematically denied it would use chemical weapons even if it had them, only wants its claims that opposition rebels used such arms to be investigated.

Ban has said the team should also look into opposition claims.

Experts say containing the threat of chemical weapons would likely involve a presence of troops on the ground.

“Weapons of Mass Destruction Elimination operations, as these efforts are termed, are extremely complex and would almost certainly require a significant in-country presence for an extended period of time,” said David Reeths, director of IHS Jane’s Consulting.

Britain’s Times newspaper published a report Friday detailing the killing in Aleppo of a family, allegedly by chemical arms.

The family “died twitching, hallucinating and choking on white froth that poured from their noses and mouths. Their doctors believe that they were killed by nerve gas,” said the report.

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