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15 Aug, 2013 03:01

Syria accepts essential terms of chemical weapons probe - UN

Syria accepts essential terms of chemical weapons probe - UN

Syrian government has accepted the ‘essential modalities’ under which the UN was ready to investigate whether chemical weapons had been used in the country, the body has announced, signalling that experts will shortly be traveling to Syria.

"The departure of the team is now imminent," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. “As agreed with the Government of Syria, the team will remain in the country to conduct its activities, including on-site visits, for a period of up to 14 days, extendable upon mutual consent.” 

The Secretary-General has expressed his appreciation to the Syrian government for accepting “the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the Mission.”

The statement also reminded that the use of chemical weapons “by any side under any circumstances” would constitute an “outrageous crime.”

Two weeks ago the United Nations said that an agreement had been reached with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as to the three locations that UN inspectors would be investigating, led by Swedish scientist, Ake Sellstrom.

One site to be visited by the UN team is Khan al-Assal in Aleppo, where the country’s government says rebels used chemical weapons in March. The two additional locations have yet to be confirmed. 

Ban Ki-moon (AFP Photo / HO / UN Photo / Mark Garten)

Both Syria’s government and rebel forces have long been accusing each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.

Russia cheered the move, expressing hope that it would help to resolve the ongoing crisis.

“Moscow welcomes the principal agreement on the launch of the work of a group of international experts in Syria, which, even after a delay, opens the way for a thorough and objective investigation of the alleged cases of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

Last month Russia submitted “a full set of documents” to the UN and its analysis of samples taken west of Aleppo. Russia’s findings indicated that it was rebels behind the Khan al-Assal incident, in which more than 30 people died. 

The United States cast doubt on the Russian findings saying its own intelligence services believed Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons. However, Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN commission’s inquiry into rights violations in Syria, said the evidence provided by the US did not meet standards as his commission was “very worried about the chain of custody of the substances.” 

Back in March Damascus has requested UN investigators to visit Khan al-Assal. The UN formed a mission back then, but reluctant to send it, demanding “unconditional and unfettered” access across the country, according to Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky. 

Syria’s Foreign Ministry rejected UN effort to broaden a probe claiming that it was “at odds with the Syrian request” and that its “possible hidden intentions” could violate Syrian sovereignty.

In total, the UN received some 13 reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria and the UN inspectors will be investigating the “allegations” of chemical weapons use, rather than determining who was responsible for the attacks.