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22 Aug, 2013 11:23

Syrian govt ready to cooperate with UN experts in chemical attack probe - Moscow

The Syrian government is ready for “maximum” cooperation with UN experts working to clarify the alleged use of chemical weapons in attacks, Russia’s Foreign Ministry says. The UN has requested access to Damascus suburbs to be granted “without delays”.

Speaking on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Moscow hopes that UN experts will conduct “objective investigation of all possible cases of use of chemical weapons on Syrian territory.”

"We hope that the results will clarify the issue and will help to dispel numerous speculations around the alleged use of the Syrian chemical weapons that simultaneously create a positive background for the moves towards the start of the political process of settlement of the Syrian crisis", he said.

The statement comes the day after a gas attack was reported by opposition activists in the capital, Damascus, killing according to various reports from dozens up to 1,300. However, according to Lukashevich no one has a confirmed data on the number of killed.

While rebel groups blamed the incident on President Bashar Assad's forces, the government suspects it was carried out by opposition to draw international attention to their cause.

The attack coincided with the visit of UN observers, coming to the country to investigate previous cases of chemical attacks in the war-torn country.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Syrian government to allow a UN team, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, to visit the site in the Damascus suburbs.  

"A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay," Ban’s office said in a statement. 

Ban also stated that he would send a top UN disarmament official, Angela Kane, to personally carry out the talks with the Syrian government, adding that he expects a swift and positive answer. 

UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said that allegations of the use of chemical weapons are “exceptionally grave and need to be comprehensively proved or disproved as soon as is humanly possible". 

The US State Department has also expressed doubt that Syrian rebels have the capability to use chemical weapons. At the same time, the US stressed that it is yet unable to say conclusively if chemical weapons were used in Wednesday’s alleged gas attack in Damascus. President Obama has urged the intelligence community to gather information to help clarify the claim.

France has called on the international community to respond with force if it is proved true that the Syrian government was behind Wednesday’s chemical attack on civilians. 

Speaking during a telephone conversation with the UN Secretary General, French President, Francois Hollande denounced “the likely use of chemical weapons" on the night of August 20-21.

A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows a Syrian couple mourning in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds ahead of funerals following what Syrian rebels claim to be a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo/Shaam News Network)

Echoing the French statement, Britain said its priority is to verify cases of chemical weapon use and added it cannot rule out any option to end bloodshed in Syria.

Germany earlier the day also demanded Syrian authorities to “immediately” grant full access to UN chemicals weapons experts investigating the attack.

Russian officials at the same time remain skeptical of the claims that the Syrian government was behind the gas attack.

Reports by “biased regional media” about alleged chemical weapons use near Damascus might be “a provocation planned in advance,” Lukashevich said on Wednesday. He added that there were previous reports by local media about chemical attacks that proved to be false.

“It draws attention to the fact that biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government,” he said.