DAMASCUS - A team of United Nations chemical weapons experts
arrived in Damascus on Sunday to investigate the possible use of chemical
weapons in Syria's civil war.
President Bashar Assad's government and
the rebels fighting him have accused each other of using chemical weapons, a
step which the United States had said would cross a "red line" in a conflict
which has killed 100,000 people.
Like the broader Syrian conflict, the
issue of chemical weapons has divided world powers. Washington said in June it
believed Assad's forces have used them on a small scale, while in July Moscow
said rebels fired sarin gas near Aleppo in March.
The UN team,
including weapons experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons, will try to establish only whether chemical weapons including sarin and
other toxic nerve agents were used, not who used them.
The 20-member team
declined to comment to reporters as they checked into a hotel in central
Led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, the team had been on
standby since early April to visit Syria but the mission was held up for months
by negotiations over the access Damascus would grant them.
officials originally insisted they should only investigate claims of chemical
weapons use in Khan al-Assal, near the northern city of Aleppo, but the team has
been urged to look into at least a dozen other incidents, mainly around
Damascus, Homs and the northern town of Saraqeb.
The experts now plan to
visit Khan al-Assal and two other sites which they have not yet
Syria is one of seven countries that has not joined the 1997
convention banning chemical weapons. Western nations believe it has caches of
undeclared mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents.
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