Doubts Persist on Syria Chem Probe as U.N. Team Reaches Damascus

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 19, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

A 20-per­son U.N. team reached Dam­as­cus on Sunday to as­sess the vera­city of claims that chem­ic­al arms have been em­ployed in Syr­ia’s civil war, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted.

The group is ex­pec­ted to launch its in­vest­ig­a­tion on Monday, ac­cord­ing to com­ments re­leased by U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon’s of­fice. U.N. of­fi­cials have said the probe will steer clear of as­sign­ing blame for any chem­ic­al strikes in the Syr­i­an con­flict, which have res­ul­ted in up­wards of an es­tim­ated 100 deaths. Con­ven­tion­al at­tacks in the two-year-old civil war have claimed more than 100,000 lives.

In­spect­ors are to travel to the town of Khan al-As­sal, the site of an al­leged March 19 sar­in nerve gas at­tack that Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime has blamed on rebel forces. The op­pos­i­tion, in turn, has pinned the re­por­ted strike on the gov­ern­ment, the New York Times re­por­ted on Sunday.

The oth­er two in­spec­tion sites re­main un­dis­closed, but dip­lo­mats pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied them to Agence France-Presse as Atay­bah, where a chem­ic­al at­tack is al­leged to have taken place in March, and Homs, re­portedly the tar­get of a chem­ic­al as­sault last Decem­ber.

A Syr­i­an dip­lo­mat said the gov­ern­ment wants “this team to find facts on ground, es­pe­cially about what happened in Khan al-As­sal.” Dam­as­cus is un­aware of “any oth­er cases” of chem­ic­al arms use in the coun­try, Syr­i­an Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Fais­al Mek­dad told AP.

France, the United King­dom and United States have sub­mit­ted data ty­ing in­cid­ents of chem­ic­al-weapon use to the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment, and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion linked its June an­nounce­ment of plans to arm op­pos­i­tion fight­ers with find­ings that As­sad’s forces had car­ried out sar­in nerve agent strikes. Syr­i­an res­ist­ance mem­bers and re­gion­al en­voys said U.S. arms had yet to reach any rebels, the Los Angeles Times re­por­ted on Sat­urday.

Louay Meqdad, spokes­man for the rebels’ West­ern-backed Su­preme Mil­it­ary Coun­cil, ar­gued that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment would likely try to lead chem­ic­al in­vest­ig­at­ors astray, AP re­por­ted.

“This re­gime that has done everything from chan­ging signs with the names of areas to fab­ric­at­ing evid­ence with past del­eg­a­tions will do the same with this one,” he said.

The con­flict’s shift­ing battle lines have raised ques­tions about the safety of the U.N. in­vest­ig­at­ors, the New York Times re­por­ted. Op­pos­i­tion forces have prom­ised the U.N. team ac­cess to Khan al-As­sal, which they cap­tured in Ju­ly, ac­cord­ing to a rebel com­mand­er who spoke to the news­pa­per un­der a pseud­onym. The in­sider said he and oth­er rebels fear the U.N. in­spect­ors are As­sad re­gime “con­spir­at­ors.”

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