Bodies from Syria chemical weapons attack 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)
UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the
Syrian government on Thursday to allow UN inspectors to investigate the latest
alleged chemical attack in the country's civil war "without delay" and grant
them access to the site near Damascus.
Ban has asked the UN High
Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, to travel to Damascus to
push for access for the UN team, which arrived in Syria on Sunday to
investigate several previous claims of chemical weapons use.
President Bashar Assad's government is under increasing pressure from Western
and Gulf Arab countries and Assad's ally Russia to allow access to the
rebel-held site of Wednesday's pre-dawn attack. The opposition Syrian National
Coalition has also urged UN access.
"The Secretary-General believes
that the incidents reported yesterday need to be investigated without delay,"
Ban's press office said in a statement. "A formal request is being sent by the
United Nations to the government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive
a positive response without delay." Syria's government offered no immediate
public response to calls on Thursday for the UN team to inspect the
Assad opponents gave death tolls from the attack ranging from 500
to well over 1,000 and said on Thursday that more bodies were still being found.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.
The UN team, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, is already looking into three
claims of chemical use in Syria's conflict. The United Nations has received a
total of 14 reports of possible chemical attacks - one from Syria's government
and the rest from Britain, France and the United States.
The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of
using chemical weapons, and both have denied doing so. The UN inquiry will try
to establish only whether chemical weapons were used, not who used
Ban said on Monday that if the experts found that chemical weapons
had been used then it would be up to "the international community to determine
what course of action should be taken to prove ... accountability and what needs
to be done." "Use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law and
international human rights law," Ban told a news conference.
Nations has been demanding unfettered access in Syria to conduct the
investigation. Sellstrom's team consists of experts from the Organization for
the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health
Ban appointed Sellstrom to lead the inquiry in March, but
diplomatic wrangling and concerns over safety prevented his team from entering
Syria until this week.
Syria is one of seven countries that have not
joined the 1997 convention banning chemical weapons. Western countries believe
it has stockpiles of undeclared mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve
The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed
in the Syrian conflict since 2011.
More than 1.9 million Syrians have
fled the country - two-thirds of those since the start of the year - and more
than 4.2 million people have been internally displaced, the United Nations has
said. Most of those in need are women and children.