By Donna Abu-Nasr & Terry Atlas
August 22, 2013
Syrian troops renewed their artillery assault on a Damascus suburb where the opposition says hundreds were killed by toxic gases, as France urged the world to respond “with force” to any use of chemical weapons.
A team of United Nations inspectors already in the country to probe previous claims of chemical weapons use is seeking access to the rebel-controlled Damascus suburbs to try to probe the claims, which the Syrian government denies. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow today that Syria has pledged “maximum cooperation” with the UN experts.
Opposition groups said as many as 1,300 people died yesterday in a chemical weapons attack on Ghouta, a toll that could not be independently verified. While the use of chemicals has not been confirmed, doctors on the scene reported injuries consistent with the use of nerve gas and pesticides, and photos and video footage posted on the Internet showed bodies without visible wounds.
A chemical attack, if confirmed, would be a war crime and the worst atrocity in 2 1/2 years of civil war in which more than 100,000 Syrians have died and millions more have been displaced, according to UN estimates. The U.S. and European powers have resisted opposition appeals for more help as Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN doesn’t yet have confirmation that chemical arms were used and “the security situation right now does not allow” inspectors to visit the site of the alleged attack, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters in New York after the Security Council met to discuss the situation. Additionally, Syria would have to agree to expand the inspectors’ mandate.
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