UN Chief 'shocked' over Syrian attack
Chief UN chemical weapons inspector Ake Sellstrom is in discussions with the Syrian government over an alleged chemical weapons attack on Wednesday and is following the situation carefully, the United Nations said.
The United States, Britain and France will ask UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later on Wednesday to open an investigation into what may be one of the deadliest incidents of Syria’s two-year-old civil war, UN diplomats said.
Western and regional countries have called for UN chemical weapons investigators, who arrived in Damascus three days ago to look into previous allegations of such attacks, to be dispatched to the scene of the latest reported attack, which occurred in suburbs east of Damascus.
“Professor Sellstrom is in discussions with the Syrian government on all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident,” the UN Press office said in a statement.
Ban was shocked by the report of the alleged attack, the statement said.
The UN mission of Argentina, the president of the 15-nation UN Security Council this month, said the council would hold an emergency meeting at 3pm EDT (1900 GMT) to discuss the latest alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Syria’s opposition accused Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s forces of gassing many hundreds of people - by one report as many as 1,300 - in a pre-dawn attack on Wednesday. Assad’s government denied using chemical weapons.
“Today, we are formally requesting that the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “The UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is consistent with its purpose and mandate.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called for a fair and professional investigation into reports that troops loyal to Assad were responsible for the suspected attack.
But Moscow suggested that rebels could have staged the alleged assault to provoke international action.
It was not immediately clear how the Syrian government would respond to requests to allow Sellstrom’s team to investigate the alleged incident.
UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the secretary-general is “shocked” at the use of chemical weapons.
Britain and France drafted a letter to the secretary-general requesting that the chemical weapons team investigate Wednesday’s incident, and other countries including the United States have signed it, UN diplomats said. A White House spokesman said the US was asking the UN to investigate and wants a Security Council debate.
Del Buey said the secretary-general is aware that a number of member states, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed “grave concern” about Wednesday’s alleged attack.
“The secretary-general reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by member states,” del Buey said.
Ban reiterated “that any use of chemical weapons, by any side, under any circumstances, would violate international humanitarian law,” he said.