The United Nations Security Council convened on Wednesday to discuss ways to respond to reports suggesting that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad killed more than 1,300 people using chemical weapons, AFP reports.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said he was “shocked” by the reports and that UN weapons experts in Syria to probe previous allegations were in discussions with Damascus.
Security Council members France, Britain, the United States, Luxembourg and South Korea had called for the meeting, which was held behind closed doors.
Diplomats said a joint letter written by those countries cited “credible reports of the use of chemical weapons.”
“We urge you to do all you can to ensure that the mission has urgent access to all relevant sites and sources of information,” the letter said.
The United States called for immediate access to the site of the alleged chemical attack.
“We are working urgently to gather additional information,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement expressing deep concern over the reports.
International action, however, is likely to be limited, with Security Council member Russia standing firmly by Assad’s regime. Russia, along with China, has already vetoed several Security Council resolutions condemning the Assad regime.
Even following Wednesday’s report of the chemical attack, Russia was quick to back up denials from Assad’s administration by saying it looked like a rebel “provocation” to discredit him, reported Reuters.
Britain voiced the opposite view, with Foreign Secretary William Hague saying, "I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime to realize its murderous and barbaric nature.”
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon backed on Wednesday evening the Syrian opposition’s claims, saying that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.
"In Syria, the regime has used chemical weapons and it's not the first time," Yaalon told reporters.
"It's a life and death struggle between a regime based on the Alawite minority and a disparate opposition composed of Sunni Muslims, some Muslim Brotherhood members, others linked to Al-Qaeda,” he added.
Shortly after Yaalon's comments, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying that it was clear that chemical weapons had been used, and called for an immediate UN investigation.
"Use of chemical weapons in Syria is evident from the footage coming from there," Davutoglu said in an interview. "We have called for an immediate investigation by the UN teams."
U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past said that Assad using chemical weapons would be considered a “red line”, but has mostly failed to act on that statement, resulting in criticism of his administration.