Sunday, August 25, 2013

Syria to allow UN to inspect 'chemical weapons' site

Syria to allow UN to inspect 'chemical weapons' site

Buildings in Irbin, Damascus, damaged during alleged chemical weapons attack (25 August 2013)The Damascus suburb of Irbin was one of those affected by Wednesday's attack
The Syrian government has agreed to allow UN inspectors to investigate allegations of a suspected chemical weapon attack near Damascus.
The team is to begin work on Monday. Activists say Syrian forces killed more than 300 people in several suburbs east and west of the capital on Wednesday.
A US official accused Damascus earlier of an "indiscriminate use of chemical weapons". He said the delay was meant to allow evidence to degrade.
Syria has blamed "terrorists".
State media have reported that chemical agents have been found in tunnels used by rebel fighters, and also that soldiers "suffered from cases of suffocation" when rebels used poison gas "as a last resort" after government forces made "big gains" in the suburb of Jobar.
State TV is meanwhile reporting that the governor of the central state of Hama, Anas Abdul-Razzaq Naem, has been killed in a car bomb attack.
'Degradation of evidence'
The Syrian foreign ministry statement broadcast on state television said an agreement to allow UN chemical weapons experts to "investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Damascus province" had been concluded on Sunday with the UN's disarmament chief, Angela Kane.


The apparent use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds of civilians, has clearly lifted the Syrian conflict to a yet higher level of crisis.
With the US stiffening its military posture in the eastern Mediterranean and the Russians continuing to defend their only staunch Arab ally, the dire predictions made months ago by some regional analysts that the situation could spiral rapidly into World War III are starting to look a little less fanciful.
Conversely, and for that very reason, there are those who believe that the level of tension that has now been reached may force the unblocking of the process to find a political settlement of the crisis.
It is not out of the question that the huge pressures exerted on all parties by the chemical weapons attacks might just be enough to pop the cork and force movement towards negotiations, with the latest speculation focusing on Geneva in October.
The agreement was "effective immediately", the statement added.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon subsequently announced that the inspectors were "preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities", starting on Monday. A ceasefire will be observed at the affected locations, the statement said.
Russia, a key ally of Syria, welcomed the decision to allow UN inspectors in but warned the West against pre-empting the results.
Earlier, a senior US government official said "there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians" and the authorities were intentionally delaying the UN probe.
"Any belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team would be considered too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime's persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days," the official told reporters in Washington.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Saturday that three hospitals it supports in the Damascus area had treated about 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms" early on Wednesday morning, of whom 355 died.
While MSF said it could not "scientifically confirm" the use of chemical weapons, staff at the hospitals described a large number of patients arriving in the space of less than three hours with symptoms including convulsions, pinpoint pupils and breathing problems.
The US and UK insist "significant use of chemical weapons would merit a serious response"
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has discussed the situation in a telephone call with President Francois Hollande of France.
"They agreed that a chemical weapons attack against the Syrian people on the scale that was emerging demanded a firm response from the international community," a Downing Street spokesman said.
"This crime must not be swept under the carpet."
Mr Cameron agreed a similar response in a telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama on Saturday evening.
'Red line'
Later, Syria's Information Minister, Omran Zoabi, warned that US military action in Syria would not be a "walk in the park".
"If the US leads a military intervention, this will have dangerous consequences. It will bring chaos and the region will burn," he said.
A year ago, President Obama said that any attempt by Syria to use its chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the US, and change his administration's "calculus" in the region.
line break
'Chemical attack': What we know
Map showing the areas where the alleged chemical attacks took place in Syria
  • 01:15: 21 August (10:15 GMT 20 Aug): Facebook pages of Syrian opposition report heavy fighting in rebel-held eastern districts of the Ghouta, the agricultural belt around Damascus
  • 02:45: Opposition posts Facebook report of "chemical shelling" in Ein Tarma area of the Ghouta
  • 02:47: Second opposition report says chemical weapons used in Zamalka area of the Ghouta
  • Unverified video footage shows people being treated on pavements in the dark and in a makeshift hospital
  • Reports say chemical weapons were used in Ghouta towns of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Tarma as well as in Muadhamiya to the west, but this is not confirmed
  • Syrian government acknowledges military offensive in the Ghouta but denies chemical weapons use