UN team arrives in Syria for chemical weapons inspection

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A UN Syrian staff (L) welcomes Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom (R) and Angela Kane (unseen), the UN high representative for disarmament, at a hotel in Damascus on 24 July 2013. (Photo: AFP - Louai Beshara)

Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Two senior UN inspectors tasked with investigating claims that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict were in Damascus on Wednesday for talks with government officials.

Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom and Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament, arrived from Beirut for the talks, which the United Nations has been pushing for since April.

They were likely to meet Foreign Minister Walid Muallem later in the day, a source close to the UN delegation told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Top of the agenda will be access to areas of the country where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used so that they can pursue their investigations.

Syria's government and rebels fighting to topple it have accused each other of using chemical weapons in the drawn-out conflict which has seen more than 100,000 people killed.

On July 11, the United Nations accepted an invitation from the Syrian government for the visit by the two officials.

The United States has accused forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of making limited use of its chemical weapons stockpiles during the conflict, a finding backed by several other Western governments.

Longstanding Assad ally Russia has accused the rebels of using chemical weapons.

Damascus has insisted any investigation should focus on the use of chemical weapons in the northern town of Khan al-Assal in March, which it and Russia blamed on the rebels.

The town was captured by the rebels on Monday, in what diplomats at the United Nations said was a blow to the mission's hopes of gaining access.

"If the government does not control Khan al-Assal then there is little chance they will let UN experts in," said one UN Security Council diplomat.

The United Nations has received 13 allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The United States has previously said that the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would constitute a "red line" that would warrant greater involvement.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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