Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

U.N. Targets Syria Gas-Attack Claim Envoy to Press Assad for Access to Inquiry

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

U.N. Targets Syria Gas-Attack Claim Envoy to Press Assad for Access to Inquiry

Article excerpt

BEIRUT -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday dispatched his top disarmament official to Syria to seek permission for U.N. investigators to visit a Damascus suburb where the Syrian opposition claims that chemical weapons were used against civilians.

Mr. Ban instructed Germany's Angela Kane, the U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, to fly to Damascus to try to persuade the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to grant the U.N. team access to the site of Wednesday's alleged chemical attack.

"The secretary-general believes that the incidents reported yesterday need to be investigated without delay," according to a statement from his office. It said Mr. Ban wants the U.N. mission members "to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident." The statement added: "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."

The statement was issued after France on Thursday raised the possibility of international intervention in Syria if there is solid proof that Mr. Assad's forces used chemical weapons against his people.

Activists, meanwhile, struggled to confirm that more than 1,000 people had perished, as experts warned that vital physical evidence could dissipate unless a U.N. investigative team -- already in the country to investigate previous claims of poisonous gas use -- was given permission to visit the site.

Although the United States, France, Britain and others have specifically requested that the inspection team proceed, "there is a requirement of consent in situations like this," Deputy U.N. Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said, "and also that the security situation will allow them to enter the area. It is a very dramatic situation, and the security situation right now does not allow such access."

The Syrian government on Wednesday strongly denied that there had been an attack. But widely circulated images of children in spasms and vomiting added to the pressure on the United States and the international community to take robust action. …

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