Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has agreed for the first time to let United Nations inspectors into his country to investigate three reported incidents of chemical weapons use, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
The Assad regime made the agreement after discussions last week in Damascus with Angela Kane, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN team of chemical weapons experts created in March, Nesirky said.
The UN will send the investigators “as soon as possible” to probe the three incidents, which include an alleged March chemical attack in Khan al-Asal, a town near Aleppo, that killed at least 30 people, he said, without giving further details.
Sellstrom’s team of experts hasn’t been able to get a first-hand look at evidence and construct a chain of custody in the face of conflicting claims by the Assad government and the armed opposition over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria’s two-year civil war. The UN so far has received 13 reports of such allegations, Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council on July 23.
The main Syrian political opposition group formed a commission on July 28 to investigate the killing of dozens of people during recent fighting in Khan al-Asal, where the Assad government said a group linked to al-Qaeda had killed 123 people. Some bodies were mutilated and thrown in a ditch on the outskirts of town, while others were incinerated, according to the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s letter to the UN.
President Barack Obama, who in June pledged increased support for rebel forces in Syria not allied with Muslim extremists, has repeatedly said the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s regime would cross a “red line” for the U.S.
The Syrian conflict began on the heels of the widespread revolts in Arab nations in 2011. More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions have either been displaced or become refugees in neighboring countries, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a July 25 meeting in New York.