Syria: 'Time runs out' for 'chemical attack' probe
As UN chief Ban Ki-Moon urges immediate inspection of site, experts warn evidence is already fading
THE alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria needs to be investigated "without delay", UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said as President Obama described the atrocity as a "big event of grave concern".
As consensus grows that a nerve agent was used in the attack near Damascus on Wednesday, Moon has dispatched disarmament chief Angela Kane to press for an urgent investigation, the BBC reports.
Syria’s rebels say as many as 1,300 people were killed in the attack, in the Ghouta area of Damascus. The Syrian government has described claims it used chemical weapons against its own people as "illogical and fabricated" and said accounts of the attack were invented by rebels seeking to distract attention from recent losses in the civil war.
Here is a round-up of other key developments:
Growing evidence chemical weapons were used: Experts are increasingly convinced that nerve agents were used in the attack, says the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall. "Dozens” of amateur videos showing the aftermath of the attack are mostly unverified but are "helping to provide a fuller picture of what may have happened on the outskirts of Damascus in the small hours of Wednesday morning”, she says. The debate is moving away from whether a chemical attack took place to "which side may have been responsible”. The Guardian has no doubt the Assad regime is to blame. In an editorial it says: "The Syrian government acknowledged it had launched a major offensive in the area and they are the only combatant with the capability to use chemical weapons on this scale.”
Russia urges Syria to allow inspection of site: Moscow has been the Syrian government’s staunchest ally, but it has joined international calls for an inspection of the site of the alleged chemical attack. The Kremlin suggested the atrocity might be a "premeditated provocation" by rebel forces, but its support for an inspection is significant nonetheless, says Sky News. Demands by Britain, France and the US for UN inspectors to be given "immediate and unrestricted” access to the site were supported yesterday by Germany and Turkey.
Time is running out to find evidence of chemical weapons: The team of 20 specialists from the UN are stuck at the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus – just 12 miles from the scene of the attack – as the political battle to secure an inspection of the site continues. Time is running out, says The Independent, because "delays in acquiring samples would mean that meaningful evidence would dissipate”. Chemical weapons expert Philippe Vincent told the paper that traces of sarin – the substance allegedly used in the attack – "do not last for long”. He went on: "If there is an active cover-up then munitions used to carry out the assault can be removed. The video footage was quite graphic and indicated symptoms of possible poisoning, but it was just footage at the end of the day. You need to have research on the ground.”
US holds spate of talks on Syria: The White House has not been in the vanguard of nations wanting to intervene in Syria, but the apparent atrocity seems to have roused it. Secretary of State John Kerry has held a "flurry of diplomatic talks" with seven of his counterparts, including Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague. Kerry discussed "possible new action" against the Syrian government, The Guardian reports, although the White House stressed it has yet to see "conclusive" evidence that chemical weapons were used. Washington is divided over how to respond to events in Syria, the paper says. Some, like UN ambassador Susan Rice, are in favour of "moving beyond” the limited supply of weapons to the rebels. Military leaders such as General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, are urging caution because it is unclear whether the forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad would support US interests if they assumed control of the country. ·