UN inspectors visit site of alleged Syria chemical attack despite sniper fire
United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transport a team of U.N. chemical weapons experts to the scene of a poison gas attack outside the Syrian capital last week, in Damascus August 26, 2013. (Reuters / Khaled Al Hariri)
A UN inspection team has returned to a hotel in Damascus after taking samples from the site of Wednesday’s alleged chemical attack in an eastern suburb, despite a sniper assault on the mission’s vehicle.
Just in the beginning of their journey, the UN team was forced to return to the government checkpoint to replace their car, which “was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers in the buffer zone area," the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Martin Nesirky, said.
Despite earlier reports that the mission would be suspended, the team went to the inspection area after replacing the no longer serviceable vehicle. The inspectors then met the victims of the attack and took samples, medics told Reuters.
Syrian state TV has issued a statement accusing rebel fighters of carrying out the attack, quoting sources in the Syrian Information Ministry. The Syrian opposition later accused the government of firing towards the vehicle.
Earlier, the team of UN experts drove off from central Damascus to inspect the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack in one of the suburbs near the capital. The convoy included six cars and was accompanied by a vehicle of security forces and an ambulance, Reuters reported.
On Sunday, the Assad government gave a green light to the mission to allow investigators access to the sight of reported attack in the suburb of Ghouta which according to various sources caused from "dozens" to 1,300 fatalities.
In Russia, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that snipers attacking the UN inspectors "does not inspire optimism." He remarked the incident took place on territory controlled by the opposition forces and called for a proper investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Ghouta.
“Officially Washington, London and Paris say they have incontrovertible evidence that the Syrian government is behind the chemical attack in Damascus, but they have not yet presented this evidence. Yet, they keep saying that the ‘red line’ has been crossed,” Lavrov said during an emergency press conference in Moscow.
Political leaders from the countries mentioned have all released strong condemnations over the weekend, seemingly in favor of military intervention.
"The Prime Minister and President Obama... have agreed that there should be a strong response from the international community, " said UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today program. Questioned whether military intervention was a possible route, he said"this may be the choice."
Lavrov stated that the fallout from the alleged chemical attack is aimed at sabotaging discussions in Geneva while the West tries to substitute inspectors' work with their own statements.
“Those involved with the incident wanted to sabotage the upcoming Geneva peace talks. Maybe that was the motivation of those who created this story. The opposition obviously does not want to negotiate peacefully,” Lavrov commented.