UN weapons inspectors head to Syria

Written By doni icha on Kamis, 15 Agustus 2013 | 19.15

15 August 2013 Last updated at 04:31 ET

The UN says weapons inspectors are to depart shortly for Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Under an agreement reached with Damascus, the UN team is to visit three sites over two weeks, including a northern town at the centre of allegations of chemical weapons use.

Some 26 people were killed in the attacks in Khan al-Assal in March.

The UN mission had been delayed over differences with the Syrian government over the scope of the investigation.

However, on 31 July the Syrian government agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit the sites. On Wednesday the UN said its team had completed their trip preparations.

"The government of Syria has formally accepted the modalities essential for co-operation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission," a spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Eduardo del Buey, said.

"The departure of the team is now imminent," he added.

The mandate of the 10-man investigating team, led by Swedish arms expert Ake Sellstroem, is limited to reporting on whether chemical weapons were actually used and which ones, but it will not determine responsibility for any attacks.

After the initial two weeks, the UN said, the trip was "extendable upon mutual consent".

Two of the locations to be investigated have not been identified so far.

What started out as anti-government protests inspired by the Arab Spring quickly descended into a full-scale civil war in Syria, with more than 100,000 people killed during the 28-month conflict.

The possibility of President Bashar al-Assad using Syria's chemical weapons stock or rebels obtaining some of the stockpiles is one of the factors that has most worried Western observers of the conflict.

The UN says it has received up to 13 reports of chemical weapons use in Syria - one from the Damascus government about the events at Khan al-Assal, with the rest mainly from the UK, France and USA.

Both sides of the conflict - the rebels and the government - have denied using chemical weapons.

Syria is one of seven countries that have not joined the 1997 convention banning chemical weapons.

Syria is widely believed to possess large undeclared stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin nerve agent.

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