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U.N. to launch probe of Syria chemical weapons allegations

August 25, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood east of Damascus, Syria, on Sunday. Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations to allow a U.N. team of experts to visit such areas, sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week.
Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood… (Hassan Ammar / Associated…)

BEIRUT — The United Nations plans to begin "on-site fact-finding activities" near Damascus on Monday as part of its investigation into the suspected chemical attacks last week that have generated global concern, the international agency said Sunday.

In a statement, the U.N. confirmed an earlier declaration from Syrian authorities that their government had agreed to grant access to the areas in the Damascus suburbs where attacks allegedly took place Wednesday.

In addition, the U.N. said, the Syrians have "agreed to provide the necessary cooperation, including the observance of the cessation of hostilities at the locations related to the incident."

Opposition activists have alleged that at least three suburbs east of Damascus were bombarded with toxic gas. A fourth site southwest of the capital was also targeted, the opposition said.

All four areas are heavily contested between Syrian and rebel forces and have been the target of periodic shelling and aerial attacks from Syrian forces.

The government and the opposition have exchanged blame for the suspected chemical attacks, which allegedly left hundreds dead, provoking global outrage.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared the mission the "highest priority" for the inspection team now on the ground in Syria, the statement said. The 20-member contingent arrived in Damascus last week with a limited mandate to investigate three alleged chemical attacks that occurred months ago in various parts of Syria. The new accord allows the team to look into the latest allegations.

The U.N. called on all parties to cooperate in "urgently generating a safe environment for the mission to do its job efficiently and providing all necessary information."

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patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Twitter: @mcdneville

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