U.N. Launches Probe of Possible Syrian Chemical Arms Attack

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -
Civilians inspect a building, which activists said was damaged after going under fire by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Kefr Hamra area, north of Aleppo. (REUTERS/Giath Taha)
Civilians inspect a building, which activists said was damaged after going under fire by a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in Kefr Hamra area, north of Aleppo. (REUTERS/Giath Taha)

The United Nations said on Thursday it will investigate Syria’s allegations that rebel forces used chemical weapons in an attack near Aleppo, but Western countries sought a probe of all claims concerning the use of such banned arms.

“I have decided to conduct a United Nations investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The investigation will focus on “the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government,” he told reporters.

Syria asked Ban to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack by “terrorist groups” near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, said Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari.

The deaths of 26 people in that rocket attack have become the focus of competing claims Wednesday from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters and opponents, who accuse each other of firing a missile laden with chemicals.

The Syrian opposition reported a second chemical weapons attack on Tuesday near Damascus.

Ban made clear the focus of the investigation he announced would be on the Aleppo attack.

“I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons,” he said, adding that the United Nations would be cooperating with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

“My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity,” Ban said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington wanted any serious allegations regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be investigated.

“The United States supports an investigation that pursues any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, and underscores the importance of launching this investigation as swiftly as possible,” Rice said in a statement.

Deadlock

France and Britain wrote to Ban on Thursday to draw his attention to the second alleged attack near Damascus, as well as one in Homs in late December. The rebels blame Syria’s government for all three incidents

“Given the gravity of these allegations we judge it essential that all the pertinent facts concerning these allegations are swiftly investigated,” France and Britain wrote. “We therefore request that you launch an urgent investigation into all allegations as expeditiously as possible.”

U.S. and European officials say there is no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. If one is confirmed, it would be the first use of such weapons in the two-year Syrian conflict, which the United Nations says has killed 70,000 people.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban was reviewing the British and French request.

Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that bans chemical weapons. For months the United States, Israel and European countries have voiced concerns about the security of Syria’s chemical arms stockpile.