West calls for U.N. to probe Syria chemical attack allegations

A girl, injured in what the government said was a chemical weapons attack, is treated at a hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo March 19, 2013. (Reuters)

Britain, France and the United States called Wednesday for a United Nations inquiry into accusations by the Syrian government and the opposition of chemical weapons attacks.

Britain and France cited Syrian opposition claims that there were two chemical weapons attacks, one in Damascus and another in Aleppo, on Tuesday and demanded that both be investigated.

But Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s last major ally, insisted at a U.N. Security Council meeting that only the government’s allegations should be investigated.

Syria has asked the United Nations to order an “independent” investigation into its claim that opposition rebels used chemical weapons in an attack at Khan al-Assal near Aleppo on Tuesday.

U.N. leader Ban Ki-Moon gave no immediate sign as to how he would respond to the calls for an investigation. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said a written request has been from the Damascus government “and it is being studied.”

Divisions over the two year-old Syria conflict again erupted at a Security Council meeting where France raised the allegations.


‘No evidence’


French U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said there was no proof yet of the use of chemical weapons by any side.

He told reporters that a majority of the 15 members of the council had wanted to send a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calling for an investigation into “all allegations of the use of chemical weapons.”

If proved “it would be a very serious violation of international law,” Araud added.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria also said on Wednesday there is no evidence so far to back reports that chemical weapons were used in Syria on Tuesday, but the United States has a large team investigating the issue.

“So far, we have no evidence to substantiate the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday. But I want to underline that we are looking very carefully at these reports,” Robert Ford, who was recalled from Damascus in February 2012, told a hearing of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Britain and the United States back the calls for an investigation into all allegations. The Western countries said they would send a letter to Ban seeking the signatures of as many council members as possible.

“The facts need to be clarified,” said Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Philip Parham.

“If chemical weapons have been used, this would be abhorrent, it would be very grave, it would warrant a serious response by the international community.”

Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said however the western initiative was an attempt “to delay” any investigation into claims of weapons use in Aleppo. He said France had sought an investigation into “rumors.”

The Syria war has torn apart the Security Council.

Russia and China have blocked three council resolutions, proposed by the west, which sought to increase pressure on Assad’s government.


Last Update: Thursday, 21 March 2013 KSA 08:19 - GMT 05:19