DAMASCUS: UN experts are to start investigating an alleged Syrian chemical weapons site on Monday after receiving the go-ahead from Damascus.
In an escalation of a showdown over an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week, the United States pointed the finger of blame at President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as it weighed military action.
Moscow bluntly warned the West that military action against the Syrian regime would be a “tragic mistake”.
Syria’s foreign ministry said that visiting UN disarmament envoy Angela Kane, tasked by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to establish the terms of an inquiry, struck an accord on Sunday with the Syrian government for a probe.
The United Nations said in a statement the investigation would begin as early as Monday.
Mr Ban “has instructed the mission … currently in Damascus, to focus its attention on ascertaining the facts of the 21 August incident as its highest priority,” the UN said in a statement.
“The mission is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities, starting tomorrow, Monday, 26 August.”
Syria’s opposition says more than 1,300 people died when regime forces unleashed chemical weapons against rebel-held towns east and southwest of Damascus on Aug 21, while Doctors Without Borders said 355 people had died of “neurotoxic” symptoms.
Damascus has strongly denied it carried out an attack using chemical arms, instead blaming the rebels.
French President Francois Hollande said evidence indicated the regime was to blame for the chemical attacks, while Israel demanded action against its Arab neighbour.
Mr Hollande said there was “a body of evidence indicating that the Aug 21 attack was chemical in nature, and that everything led to the belief that the Syrian regime was responsible for this unspeakable act”.
If confirmed, it would be the deadliest use of chemical agents since late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed Iranian troops and Kurdish rebels in the 1980s.
Al-Nusra Front, a fierce Al Qaeda-linked group fighting the regime, vowed revenge against villages of Mr Assad’s minority Alawite community.
The Arab League is to meet on Tuesday to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, the bloc’s deputy chief Ahmed Ben Helli said.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has said about 3,600 patients displaying “neurotoxic symptoms” had flooded into three Syrian hospitals on the day of the alleged attacks, and 355 of them died.
“Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms, including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” said MSF operations director Bart Janssens.
MSF president Mego Terzian said however that “scientific” proof was still lacking.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Mr Assad’s rule flared in March 2011, the UN says.
In the latest eruption of violence, the governor of Hama province in central Syria was killed in a car bombing on Sunday, state television reported, in an attack it blamed on rebels.