Security Council Seeks Clarity on Syrian Chemical Attack Claim

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The United Nations Security Council is concerned by the Syrian opposition’s recent claim of a chemical attack and is set to closely follow the situation, the council’s president said on Thursday, Moscow time.

The council convened for an emergency meeting behind closed doors late on Wednesday.

“There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely,” said Maria Cristina Perceval, Argentina’s UN ambassador who currently holds the council’s rotating chairmanship.

“All Council members agree that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances is a violation of international law,” Perceval told reporters after the meeting, adding that if the claim is confirmed, “immediate humanitarian assistance to the victims” would be required.

There was a “strong call for a ceasefire” among the council’s members, she added.

Syrian opposition forces claimed on Wednesday that as many as 1,300 people, including many women and children, were killed in a government-led chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta overnight.

The Syrian government quickly denied the reports of a chemical weapons attack telling the state-run SANA news agency, “These lies and allegations have become well-known to the Syrian government and people,” and are “an attempt to prevent the international investigation committee from carrying out its task and to influence the committee’s report.”

The claims were released shortly after a UN investigative team, headed by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, started working in Damascus on Monday. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that the team would investigate a reported March 19 chemical attack in Khan al-Assal as well as alleged attacks in two other locations being kept secret for security reasons.

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, who briefed the council’s members on the situation in Syria, expressed hope that the UN team “we will be able to conduct the investigation” into the fresh rumors.

“Dr Sellstrom and his team are in place in Damascus. We hope that they will be given access to the area by the government,” he said. “We see the need to investigate this as soon as possible; no matter what the conclusions, this represents a serious escalation with grave humanitarian and human consequences.”

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