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UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations said yesterday it will investigate Syria’s allegations that rebel forces used chemical weapons in an attack near Aleppo, but Western countries sought a probe of all claims concerning the use of such banned arms.
“I have decided to conduct a United Nations investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The investigation will focus on “the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government,” he told reporters.
Syria asked Ban to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack by “terrorist groups” near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, said Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari.
The deaths of 26 people in that rocket attack have become the focus of competing claims on Wednesday from Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s supporters and opponents, who accuse each other of firing a missile laden with chemicals.
The Syrian opposition reported a second chemical weapons attack on Tuesday near Damascus.
Ban made clear the focus of the investigation he announced would be on the Aleppo attack.
“I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons,” he said, adding that the United Nations would be cooperating with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.
“My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity,”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington wanted any serious allegations regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be investigated.
“The United States supports an investigation that pursues any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, and underscores the importance of launching this investigation as swiftly as possible,” Rice said in a statement.
“Given the gravity of these allegations we judge it essential that all the pertinent facts concerning these allegations are swiftly investigated,” France and Britain wrote. “We therefore request that you launch an urgent investigation into all allegations as expeditiously as possible.”
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban was reviewing the British and French request. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian government’s permission would be required to broaden the investigation to include all three alleged attacks. One UN diplomat said Assad’s government would have to consent to it.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Wednesday the British and French demand for an investigation into other attacks was an attempt to delay the UN probe of the Aleppo incident. He praised Ban’s decision to begin an investigation.
The dispute over the scope of the UN investigation highlights the chasm between Russia’s position toward the Syrian government, its ally, and that of the Western powers who support the opposition trying to oust Assad. The deadlock on the council
has left it powerless to act on Syria.