Syria gas ‘kills hundreds,’ Security Council meets

Wed, Aug 21 2013

Girls who survived from what activists say is a gas attack rest inside a mosque in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013. REUTERS-Mohamed Abdullah

A man, affected by what activists say is nerve gas, breathes through an oxygen mask in Damascus suburbs August 21, 2013 in this picture provided by Shaam News Network. REUTERS-Fadi al-Dirani-Shaam News Network-Handout via Reuters
Survivors from what activists say is a gas attack rest inside a mosque in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus August 21, 2013. REUTERS-Bassam Khabieh

BEIRUT/AMMAN | Thu Aug 22, 2013 12:53am BST

(Reuters) – Syria‘s opposition accused government forces of gassing hundreds of people on Wednesday by firing rockets that released deadly fumes over rebel-held Damascus suburbs, killing men, women and children as they slept.

With the death toll estimated between 500 and 1,300, what would be the world’s most lethal chemical weapons attack since the 1980s prompted an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York.

The council did not explicitly demand a U.N. investigation of the incident, although it said “clarity” was needed and welcomed U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon’s calls for a prompt investigation by the U.N. inspection team in Syria, led by Ake Sellstrom.

An earlier Western-drafted statement submitted to the council, seen by Reuters, was not approved. The final version of the statement was watered down to accommodate objections from Russia and China, diplomats said. Moscow and Beijing have vetoed previous Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Assad.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said the allegations were “illogical and fabricated”. President Bashar al-Assad’s officials have said they would never use poison gas against Syrians. The United States and European allies believe Assad’s forces have used small amounts of sarin before, hence the current U.N. visit.

Immediate international action is likely to be limited, with the divisions among major powers that have crippled efforts to quell 2 1/2 years of civil war still much in evidence.

Russia backed up Syrian government denials by saying it looked like a rebel “provocation” to discredit Assad.

Britain voiced the opposite view: “I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime to realise its murderous and barbaric nature,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said on a visit to Paris.

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Syria: UN Security Council wants ‘clarity’ over alleged chemical attack

The UN Security Council has said it was necessary to clarify an alleged chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday but stopped short of explicitly demanding a UN investigation after opposition from Russia and China.

“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,” Argentina’s UN ambassador, Maria Cristina Perceval, told reporters after a closed-door emergency meeting of the council.

While the council did not explicitly call for a UN investigation, it welcomed UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s calls for one.

“The members of the Security Council also welcomed the determination of the Secretary-General to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation,” said Perceval, who is president of the council this month.

Syria’s opposition accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of gassing many hundreds of people – by one report as many as 1,300 – in a pre-dawn attack on Wednesday. Mr Assad’s government denied using chemical weapons.

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Russia, China torpedo strong UN statement on Syria

Draft proposed by US, UK and France called on Syria to allow inspectors access to alleged attack in Damascus suburbs

August 22, 2013, 2:26 am Updated: August 22, 2013, 4:13 am
The chamber of the UN Security Council in New York City (photo credit: CC BY-SA Gruban/Flickr/File)

The chamber of the UN Security Council in New York City (photo credit: CC BY-SA Gruban/Flickr/File)

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council called Wednesday for “a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” of the latest allegation of chemical weapons use in Syria.

The council backed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s determination to ensure a “thorough investigation” of the alleged attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus that killed at least 100 people.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said earlier that the secretary-general was “shocked” at Wednesday’s alleged use of chemical weapons and wants all reported incidents investigated.

During a two-hour closed-door meeting, diplomats said Russia and China, which support the Syrian government, blocked a stronger press statement supported by Britain, France, the United States and others.

But Russia and China agreed that the council president could sum up the session with “press elements” — close to the weakest response from the UN’s most powerful body, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

The proposed stronger statement, according to reports, would have called on Syria to allow UN inspectors to look into Wednesday’s alleged attack.

A Russian official called the alleged attack a “planned provocation on the part of the Syrian opposition.”

Argentina’s UN Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, the current council president, told reporters that there was “strong concern” about the latest allegations of alleged chemical weapons use “and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened.”

Syrian anti-government activists accused President Bashar Assad’s regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack that killed at least 100 people, including many children as they slept. The government denied using chemical weapons.

Perceval said council members “welcomed the determination of the secretary-general to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation.”

“All council members agreed that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances is a violation of international law,” she said. “There was also an agreement for a strong call for a cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire … (and) the need for immediate humanitarian assistance to the victims.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that if reports of the chemical attack are true, it is a “horrific crime.” She rejected, however, the idea that the EU should speed up military aid to the Syrian rebels.

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