U.N. green lights probe into Syria gas attacks

Investigations into laying blame for chemical weapons use begins after Russia lifted objections

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The United Nations Security Council on Thursday gave a green light to an international investigation aimed at assigning blame for chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the U.N. press office said on Thursday.

The official start of the joint inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was delayed due to objections by Russia, which had wanted to expand the investigation to include alleged attacks by ISIS in neighboring Iraq, diplomats said.

But Russia decided to lift its objections on Thursday, clearing the way for the probe to begin, diplomats said.

The council’s authorization came in the form of a letter from Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, seen by Reuters.

Ban’s press office confirmed receipt of the letter, according to AFP, saying in a statement that he welcomed it and would, “without delay, undertake all steps, measures and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning” of the inquiry.

On Wednesday, Ban addressed a letter to Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin giving assurances that the U.N would “expeditiously consult” with Damascus on an agreement governing how the mission will function and that there be “reasonable grounds” for its demands for access.

Syria to ‘cooperate fully’

In a statement Thursday, Ban said he would “without delay, undertake all steps, measures and arrangements necessary for the speedy establishment and full functioning of the (joint investigative mechanism).”

He did not say when the investigation would begin, but called “on all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic to cooperate fully.”

Both Syria’s government and rebels have denied using chemical weapons.

Western powers say Syria’s government has been responsible for chemical attacks, including chlorine attacks. The Syrian government and Russia, a strong backer of Assad, accuse rebel forces of using poison gas.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 in an effort to avert U.S. military strikes threatened over a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians. The OPCW has since found chlorine has been “systematically and repeatedly” used as a weapon, though it is not mandated to lay blame.