UN experts to probe alleged chemical attack

Updated: 2013-08-26 00:51

(China Daily/Agencies)

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The United Nations said on Sunday its experts would start their probe of an alleged Syrian chemical weapons site on Monday.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "has instructed the mission ... currently in Damascus, to focus its attention on ascertaining the facts of the August 21 incident as its highest priority," the UN said in a statement.

"The mission is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities."

Syrian state media also said the country reached an agreement with the UN on Sunday to allow a team of international experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week outside Damascus.

It said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and UN disarmament chief Angela Kane struck the deal during talks in Damascus.

The latest development came after US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier on Sunday that the US military was ready to take action against the Syrian government if ordered, but stressed that Washington was still evaluating claims of a chemical-weapons attack.

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Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to move closer to pinning blame on Syrian government forces.

Cameron's office said the two leaders agreed the use of chemical weapons would "merit a serious response".

A Downing Street statement said the US and British leaders are "gravely concerned by ... increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people".

The Syrian government and rebel forces have accused each other of using chemical weapons.

Doctors Without Borders said 355 people had died of neurotoxic symptoms stemming from Wednesday's incident.

As Syria and its opponents traded accusations on who used chemicals, the al-Qaida-linked Al-Nusra Front vowed punitive action.

The group on Sunday vowed revenge strikes against villages from Assad's community over claims his forces used chemical weapons.

"The Alawite villages will pay the price for each chemical rocket that struck our people in Damascus," Al-Nusra front chief Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said in an audio message posted online.

Meanwhile, a prominent Russian lawmaker on Sunday compared Obama's actions to those of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian lower house of Parliament's international committee, said on Twitter that "Obama is moving toward war in Syria just as Bush was toward war in Iraq.

"Just like in Iraq, this war will not be legitimate, and Obama will become a Bush clone."

Major world powers — including Russia, Syria's main ally — have urged the Syrian leader to cooperate with UN chemical weapons inspectors already in Damascus to pursue earlier allegations.

But Russia said the rebels were impeding an inquiry and that Assad would have no interest in using poison gas because of fear of foreign intervention.

Opposition activists in Damascus said the army was using surface-to-surface missiles and artillery to strike eastern Damascus, including neighborhoods where the alleged chemical attack occurred.