UK, Sweden FMs say Syria perpetrated chemical attack on Ghouta

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The foreign ministers of both Britain and Sweden said on Friday that forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons during an attack on the Ghouta suburb of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

“I have a hard time coming to any conclusion other than that a deadly chemical substance has been used in the attack carried out by the regime’s forces between Tuesday and Wednesday on this opposition-controlled area,” The Local, a Swedish news website in English, quoted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt as saying on his blog.

After Bildt, the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Friday there was evidence that Damascus has used chemical weapons.

“We do believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale, but we would like the United Nations to be able to assess that,” Agence France-Presse reported him saying in a televised statement.

The international community, including Syria’s most powerful international ally, Russia, have called on Assad’s regime to cooperate with the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in the conflict-stricken country.

Bildt, however, said “not all questions have been answered.”

Syria and Russia say that the opposition may have “fabricated” the attack to make Assad’s regime seem guilty.

But Hague dismissed suggestions that the attack could have been faked by rebels fighting against Assad’s regime.

“I think the chances of that are vanishingly small,” AFP quoted him as saying.

He added: “The only possible explanation of what we’ve been able to see is that it was a chemical attack. Clearly many, many hundreds of people have been killed. Some of the estimates are well over a thousand.”

Meanwhile, the Swedish foreign minister said he hoped that the U.N. experts would be able to reach Ghouta, an area known for its opposition presence, “as quickly as possible.”

“In Damascus, they must realize that this with all probability will lead to an intensification of considerations by the international community to take some form of military action,” Bildt added.

Syrian activists said on Friday that they have prepared body tissue samples from victims in Ghouta.

The opposition said hundreds of people were killed during the alleged chemical weapons attacks in the Damascus suburb.

Hague said there was “no other plausible explanation” than chemical weapons use for “casualties so intense, in such a small area, on this scale.”

He said it is important for the U.N. inspectors to investigate or else the situation will deteriorate.

“If that doesn’t happen though -- within some days, since time is of the essence in these things, the evidence will deteriorate over a matter of days - then we will need to be ready to go back to the Security Council to get a stronger mandate and for the world to speak together more forcefully about this so that there can be access.”

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