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UN Calls for 'Clarification' of Alleged Chemical Attack in Syria

Security Council stopped short of demanding a probe by UN investigators into alleged chemical weapons attack.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 8/22/2013, 2:46 AM

View of the Syrian capital Damascus
View of the Syrian capital Damascus
AFP/File

The United Nations Security Council said Wednesday that it was necessary to “clarify” an alleged chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which rebels claimed killed more than 1,000 people.

The Council, however, stopped short of demanding a probe by UN investigators currently in Syria, according to Reuters.

"There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely," Argentina's UN ambassador, Maria Cristina Perceval, told reporters after a closed-door emergency meeting of the council.

The United States, Britain and France are among around 35 countries that called for chief UN investigator Ake Sellstrom, whose team is currently in Syria, to investigate the incident as soon as possible.

The Council likely did not release a harsher statement about the incident due to an objection by Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that has already vetoed several Security Council resolutions condemning his 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.

The White House expressed alarm on Wednesday about reports that Syrian government forces used sarin in an attack on civilians.

"The United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

"We are formally requesting that the UN urgently investigate this new allegation. The UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is consistent with its purpose and mandate."

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.

Britain and France announced they will send a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to officially request a UN investigation into an alleged gas attack in Syria.