UN investigates other alleged chemical attacks in Syria
Three attacks may have taken place after August 21st event raised global concerns
Smoke rises from buildings after what activists say was an air strike by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad in Homs on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters/Thaer Al Khalidiya
As the pace of efforts to scrutinise Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles quickens, UN inspectors said yesterday they were investigating reports the weapons were used seven times in Syria, including three after an attack on August 21st on the outskirts of Damascus that set off an international crisis.
The disclosure, in a statement from the United Nations in Damascus quoted in news reports, came as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group in The Hague that oversees the international treaty banning them, planned a meeting last night to approve a separate schedule for inspections of chemical weapons storage and production sites. Syria applied to join the treaty this month.
A joint proposal by the US and Russia to be put before the organisation’s executive council calls for the completion of inspections and the destruction of “production and mixing/filling equipment” by November, according to a text on the organisation’s website.
An official at the organisation said that, if the meeting of the 41-nation executive council approves the plan to deploy inspectors in Syria, a first team of experts could arrive in Syria on Tuesday. The official, who declined to discuss the team’s composition, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In a breakthrough accord on Thursday, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which include the US and Russia, the Syrian government’s most powerful ally, agreed on a resolution that would require Syria to give up its chemical weapons, although there would be no automatic penalties if it did not.
More than 100,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war, now in its third year.
US president Barack Obama said yesterday the draft resolution was “a potentially huge victory for the international community”. He said the agreement was something the US had long sought and it was likely it would not have been achieved without a credible threat of US force after the chemical weapons attack on a suburb of Damascus that killed scores of Syrian civilians, including children.
“The fact that we now have a framework . . . that would be legally binding, that would be verifiable and enforceable, where there would be consequences for Syria’s failure to meet what has been set forth in this resolution, I think is a potentially huge victory for the international community,” Mr Obama said at the White House, where he was meeting the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh.
The inspections foreseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are separate from those under way by UN experts who arrived in Damascus on Wednesday. According to a statement in Damascus yesterday, the experts already in Syria plan to conclude their examinations of sites of seven purported chemical attacks by Monday.
Two of the attacks took place in Bahariyeh and Jobar, to the east of central Damascus, on August 22nd and 24th, and a third southwest of the capital on August 25th, the statement said. It was the first indication such weapons were used after outcry at the August 21st attack.
Earlier UN inspections within days of the attack on August 21st discovered the use of sarin, a deadly nerve gas. The US and its allies blamed the Syrian authorities for the attack, but President Bashar Assad has accused the rebels of deploying chemical weapons. – (New York Times service/Reuters)