Syrian govt greenlights UN chemical weapons probe

Chemical materials and gas masks are pictured in a warehouse at the front line of clashes between opposition fighters and government forces, during a guided tour by the Syrian Army in the Damascus suburb of Jobar August 24, 2013.(Reuters / Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria has given the “green light” for UN experts to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, state TV reports, citing the Foreign Ministry.

“An agreement was concluded today (Sunday) in Damascus between the Syrian government and the United Nations during the visit of the UN high representative for disarmament, Angela Kane, to allow the UN team led by professor Aake Sellstroem to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Damascus province,” a ministry statement said.

The agreement “is effective immediately”.

The UN said its chemical weapons experts will start probing the site in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta as early as Monday.

Syrian authorities pledge to impose a ceasefire during the UN team inspection.

Russia has welcomed the move but has called on all the sides, “trying to influence the results of the investigation in advance”, not to “make tragic mistakes”.

Washington is not satisfied with the agreement, saying that Syria’s offer to allow UN inspectors access to the attack site was “too late to be credible”.

“If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the UN— five days ago,” a senior administration official said.

France also said on Sunday there can be “no doubt” that it’s the Assad regime, which is behind the alleged chemical weapons use near Damascus.

When asked about the Syrian government’s decision to grant the UN inspectors permission to inspect the sites of the suspected attacks, French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, replied that “this request was already made several days ago” and the location “has been bombed since.”

“From the moment the substance of the facts is established incontestably, there will necessarily be a strong response,” Fabius is cited as saying by AFP.

The French stance was echoed by the UK’s foreign secretary, William Hague, who said that the international community “has to be realistic now about what the UN team can achieve” in Syria.

“The fact is that much of the evidence could have been destroyed by that artillery bombardment. Other evidence could have degraded over the last few days and other evidence could have been tampered with,” Hague is cited as saying by Reuters. 

The Syrian agreement comes amidst a media build up implying that Western powers accuse Assad’s government for the toxic gas attack on August 21 that reportedly killed anywhere between ‘dozens’ to ‘1,300’ people in a Damascus suburb.

Capture d’écran 2013-08-25 à 20.44.36

Earlier Britain and the US suggested the Syrian government was reluctant to give a UN investigative team access to the site of the reported attack because it “has something to hide” and wants to give the evidence time to degrade.

Shortly before the move, a senior US official said there was “very little doubt” that a chemical weapon had been used by Assad’s forces.

The agreement comes despite the fact that earlier in the day the Syrian Information Minister, Omran Zoabi said that Damascus would cooperate “significantly and transparently” with UN investigations but would not allow any “inspection that will prejudice national sovereignty”.

Meanwhile, Western officials stated they are considering “a serious response” from the international community if it is proven that government forces used chemical weapons against civilians.

On Saturday, British PM David Cameron’s spokesperson said that both the UK and the US have tasked officials to examine all the options.

Russia has warned unilateral military action against Syria will have a devastating impact on security in the Middle East region.

Earlier, Syria’s Information Minister, Zoabi, stated that “US military intervention will create very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East.”

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