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

Global Security Newswire Staff
See more stories about...
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.”

What We're Following See More »
PHOTO OP
Clinton Shows Up on Stage to Close Obama’s Speech
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Just after President Obama finished his address to the DNC, Hillary Clinton walked out on stage to join him, so the better could share a few embraces, wave to the crowd—and let the cameras capture all the unity for posterity.

‘DON’T BOO. VOTE.’
Obama: Country Is Stronger Than Eight Years Ago
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

In a speech that began a bit like a State of the Union address, President Obama said the "country is stronger and more prosperous than it was" when he took office eight years ago. He then talked of battling Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2008, and discovering her "unbelievable work ethic," before saying that no one—"not me, not Bill"—has ever been more qualified to be president. When his first mention of Donald Trump drew boos, he quickly admonished the crowd: "Don't boo. Vote." He then added that Trump is "not really a plans guy. Not really a facts guy, either."

‘HILLARY CLINTON HAS A PASSION’
Kaine Sticks Mostly to the Autobiography
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Tim Kaine introduced himself to the nation tonight, devoting roughly the first half of his speech to his own story (peppered with a little of his fluent Spanish) before pivoting to Hillary Clinton—and her opponent. "Hillary Clinton has a passion for children and families," he said. "Donald Trump has a passion, too: himself." His most personal line came after noting that his son Nat just deployed with his Marine battalion. "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life," he said.

TRUMP IS A ‘CON’
Bloomberg: Neither Party Has a Monopoly on Good Ideas
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

Michael Bloomberg said he wasn't appearing to endorse any party or agenda. He was merely there to support Hillary Clinton. "I don't believe that either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership," he said, before enumerating how he disagreed with both the GOP and his audience in Philadelphia. "Too many Republicans wrongly blame immigrants for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on climate change and gun violence," he said. "Meanwhile, many Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction." Calling Donald Trump a "dangerous demagogue," he said, "I'm a New Yorker, and a know a con when I see one."

TRUMP’S ‘CYNICISM IS UNBOUNDED’
Biden: Obama ‘One of the Finest Presidents’
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

Vice President Biden tonight called President Obama "one of the finest presidents we have ever had" before launching into a passionate defense of Hillary Clinton. "Everybody knows she's smart. Everybody knows she's tough. But I know what she's passionate about," he said. "There's only one person in this race who will help you. ... It's not just who she is; it's her life story." But he paused to train some fire on her opponent "That's not Donald Trump's story," he said. "His cynicism is unbounded. ... No major party nominee in the history of this country has ever known less."

×