United Nations (UN) arms experts visit a clinic as they inspect the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' eastern Ghouta suburb yesterday.
THE HAGUE: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that UN inspectors needed four days in total to conclude a probe into chemical weapons use in Syria.
“My mandate and my responsibility at this time is to conduct a thorough and complete investigation,” Ban told reporters in The Hague. “Let them (inspectors) conclude their work for four days,” he said, speaking at the centenary anniversary of the Peace Palace, seat of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ highest court.
The UN chief added that the team’s findings would then be analysed and the result sent to the UN Security Council for “any action they would deem to take”.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said later that Ban was referring to a total of four days. This suggests that the inspectors, who began their probe of the alleged chemical weapons site on Monday but whose work was suspended on Tuesday, needed at least until Friday to complete their work.
Ban’s comments came as the United States and its allies were building their case for military action against the Syrian regime over the alleged chemical weapons attacks, despite stern warnings from Russia.
The UN chief earlier called on a divided Security Council to unite and find a diplomatic solution to the escalating Syrian conflict. “Syria is the biggest challenge of war and peace in the world today. The body entrusted with maintaining international peace and security cannot be missing in action,” Ban said, referring to the Security Council.
“The Council must at last find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace,” Ban said. “The Syrian people deserve solutions, not silence,” Ban said. “We must pursue all avenues to get the parties to the negotiating table,” he said. He also warned that any move to supply weapons to either side would only worsen the situation.
“To those providing weapons to either side, we must ask: What have those arms achieved but more bloodshed? The military logic has given us a country on the verge of total destruction, a region in chaos and a global threat. Why add more fuel to the fire?”
Ban said however that all perpetrators of chemical attacks would be brought to justice, but that the facts had to established first. The UN inspectors have “collected valuable samples” and have conducted interviews with victims and witnesses since arriving in the country. “They need time to do their jobs,” Ban said.
UN experts visited the site of a second alleged chemical attack near Syria’s capital, and took blood, urine and hair samples from reported victims.
Rebels who control the area said they had travelled in a six-vehicle convoy to the outlying Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, one of the areas hit in the suspected August 21 attacks.
“We took blood, urine and hair samples” from people in a field hospital in Eastern Ghouta, one of the inspectors said. Asked if they had done the same with those who died in the incident, the inspector said that was not necessary. “The test (for the presence of chemical agents) can show positive even after weeks,” he said.
The 13 UN inspectors, seven interpreters and backup staff arrived in Syria on August 18 to start an investigation into whether chemical weapons have been used in the conflict. Opponents of President Bashar Al Assad’s regime say more than 1,300 people, including children, died when his forces unleashed toxic gases on Eastern Ghouta and Moadamiyet Al Sham.
Meanwhile, rebel fighters said they fired Katyusha rockets at government positions in central Damascus in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons attacks by Syrian regime forces against civilians. Opposition activists distributed video footage showing what they said were two locally produced Katyusha rockets being launched “in response to the chemical weapons massacre in Eastern Ghouta”.
The insurgents also fired mortar shells at air force intelligence headquarters in the east of the capital, without causing casualties, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.