Syrian regime lets in UN chemical weapons investigation team
A Syrian opposition fighter runs for cover from Syrian army snipers during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo on March 27, 2013. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad met with a committee tasked with forging a political solution to the country's spiralling conflict, state media said. (AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC)
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Syria has approved the U.N. appointment of a Swedish scientist to probe allegations of chemical weapons being used in the conflict-ravaged country, Al Arabiya correspondent reported on Wednesday.
The correspondent, quoting official sources, added that the U.N. investigation team will arrive in Syria next week and that the inspections will include the areas of Homs, Otaiba, Khan al-Assal.
On Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a Swedish professor who was a U.N. chemical weapons inspector in Iraq and now works at a research institute that deals with chemical incidents to head the U.N. fact-finding mission that will investigate allegations of the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky called Ake Sellstrom “an accomplished scientist with a solid background in disarmament and international security.”
Sellstrom was a chief inspector for UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team that investigated and dismantled Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programs in the 1990s.
Sellstrom also worked with UNMOVIC, the U.N. group that returned to Iraq in 2002 and found no solid evidence Baghdad had revived its banned arms programs before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Nesirky said the investigation would be technical and not a criminal investigation, looking at whether chemical weapons were used and not at who may have used them.
Both Syrian regime and opposition exchanged accusations that chemical weapons were used.
Syria asked the secretary-general to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19, and Britain and France have asked for an investigation of two other alleged attacks.
However, U.S. and European officials say there is no evidence of a chemical weapons attack, but the allegations of the rebels are worth taking seriously.
If one were to be confirmed, it would be the first use of such weapons in the two-year-old Syrian conflict, which the United Nations says has cost 70,000 lives.
France and Britain wrote to Ban on Thursday to draw his attention to rebel allegations of an attack near Damascus, as well as one in Homs in late December. The rebels blame Syria’s government for those incidents as well as the Aleppo attack.
Ban made clear on Thursday that the investigation would initially focus on the Aleppo incident, in which the government and rebels accuse each other of firing a missile laden with chemicals, killing 26 people.
But he has left open the possibility that the investigation could be broadened. In a letter to the Security Council on Friday, Ban said he had asked Britain, France and Syria for further information on the other alleged chemical attacks “with a view to verifying any alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters on Tuesday that he has provided Ban's office with “furtherin formation” about the alleged chemical attacks in Syria. He declined to provide details.