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Obama: Chemical weapons allegation in Syria ‘of grave concern’

Published: Updated:

New allegations of chemical weapons used by Syrian forces were of “grave concern,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Friday, Agence France-Presse reported.

In an interview with CNN he said this week’s allegations by Syrian opposition forces were more serious than previous charges against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“We are right now gathering information about this particular event, but I can say that unlike some of the evidence we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we’ve seen indicates clearly this is a big event, of grave concern,” AFP quoted the president as saying.

But Obama did not say that the weapons were used - an act described as a “red line,” and an act he said would prompt the United States to intervene in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia has urged the Syrian government to cooperate with a U.N. experts mission and allow it to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad’s troops, Reuters reported the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Friday.

Both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, have agreed that an objective investigation into the allegations was needed, when they spoke by telephone on Thursday, the statement added.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful international ally, said rebel forces should guarantee safe passage for the U.N. mission.

Moscow’s urging of Damascus to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors came after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “I can think of no good reason why any party, either government or opposition forces - would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter,” Reuters quoted the U.N. chief as saying to a diplomatic forum in Seoul.

He added: “Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law.”

The U.N. chief warned that “such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator.”

The Syrian opposition said a chemical weapons attack allegedly by the Syrian government in Ghouta, a Damascus suburb, killed hundreds of civilians on Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Activists help U.N. inspectors

The opposition said more bodies were being found in the wake of Wednesday’s mysterious pre-dawn spate of deaths, which the Syrian government insists were not it’s doing.

There is no evidence as to which party is behind the chemical attacks, but Syrian activists say they have prepared body tissue samples from victims in Ghouta.

They said are trying to get them to the U.N. inspectors staying in a hotel a few miles away.

“The U.N. team spoke with us and since then we prepared samples of hair, skin and blood and smuggled them back into Damascus with trusted couriers,” activist Abu Nidal, told Reuters from the rebel-held town of Arbin.

Several activists in the area who spoke to Reuters said they too had prepared samples to smuggle into the capital but were unable to find a way to access the U.N. monitors inside their hotel.

(Reuters and AFP)