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U.N. to investigate claims of the use of chemical weapons in Syria

April 25, 2013 at 5:32 PM   |   Comments

DAMASCUS, Syria, April 25 (UPI) -- The United Nations said it will examine soil samples in Syria to determine whether chemical weapons have been used against rebel fighters.

U.N. investigators will examine soil samples collected by Western intelligence agencies and enter Syrian refugee camps to assess whether Syrian President Bashar Assad used sarin gas against his opponents, The Guardian of Britain reported.

"The secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon]'s position is that, at this time, the mission should investigate the allegations pertaining to incidents in Aleppo and Homs. While awaiting access to the Syrian territory, the experts of the mission are studying the information on the alleged incidents of the use of chemical weapons provided to them by member states," Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. undersecretary for political affairs, said Wednesday.

The U.N. investigators were held in Cyprus as they awaited to enter into Syria. Assad initially said the group would be allowed to enter his country but later denied them access.

"While we would like the investigation to go ahead in Syria ... we are hopeful that the investigation team will still be able to undertake elements of the investigation even without access to Syria. This could include conducting interviews in refugee camps," said a Security Council official.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line," but has not yet joined Britain, France and Israel, who claim to have evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Aleppo and Homs.

"There is no doubt that sarin has been used," said a British government official, adding that in Syria, the gas has been used "in small areas and small groups of people."

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel played down British, French and Israeli conclusions during a visit in Egypt.

"Suspicions are one thing. Evidence is another. And that's not at all questioning other nations' intelligence, but the United States relies on its own intelligence. So until I can see that intelligence, I really don't have anything else to say," Hagel said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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