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U.N. seeks probe into Syria chemical weapons claim

Published: Updated:

Top U.N. disarmament official Angela Kane will visit Syria on Saturday to discuss with the government there inspectors’ access to a site where the opposition says chemical weapons were by the regime forces.

The opposition has said it would ensure the safety of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in areas of Syria it controls and said it was critical that they reached the site of an alleged gas attack near Damascus within 48 hours, Reuters reported.

“We will ensure the safety of the U.N. team ... It is critical that those inspectors get there within 48 hours,” Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, told a news conference in Istanbul.

Saleh’s comments were an apparent rebuttal of suggestions from Moscow earlier that the opposition was preventing an objective investigation into allegations that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack.

“Much needed signals from the opposition, including its readiness to guarantee the safety and effective work of U.N. experts on territory controlled by militants, unfortunately are not forthcoming,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“It is directly preventing an objective investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.”

The United States has described the alleged use of chemical weapons as “a big event of grave concern,” but stressed he was in no rush to embroil Americans in a costly new war.

Obama’s caution contrasted with calls for action from NATO allies, including France, Britain and Turkey, where leaders saw little doubt Assad’s forces had staged pre-dawn missile strikes that rebels say killed between 500 and well over 1,000 people, according to Reuters.

Britain accused Damascus of unleashing the weapons and France called for “force” if the claims were confirmed.

Activists released harrowing footage showing unconscious children, people foaming around the mouth and doctors apparently giving them oxygen has triggered revulsion around the world.

Obama said the allegations were more serious than previous ones against Assad’s regime.

“We are right now gathering information about this particular event,” he said, while warning against the United States intervening hastily and getting “mired in very difficult situations.”

One year ago, Obama warned the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a “red line” and have “enormous consequences.”

Damascus denied any wrongdoing saying it would be “political suicide” to unleash a chemical attack when U.N. inspectors are in Syria.

An activist told AFP he helped bury dozens of suffocated civilians in Moadamiyet al-Sham, the rebel-held town southwest of Damascus where the deadliest attack allegedly took place.

(With AFP and Reuters)