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U.N. begins probe of alleged chemical attack in Syria

SYRIA CONFLICT | 26 de agosto de 2013

United Nations experts who traveled to Syria to determine whether chemical weapons have been used in the country's civil war began work Monday at the scene of last week's alleged chemical attack by government forces. EFE

Damascus, Aug 26 (EFE).- United Nations experts who traveled to Syria to determine whether chemical weapons have been used in the country's civil war began work Monday at the scene of last week's alleged chemical attack by government forces.

Snipers attacked one of their vehicles as the U.N. mission entered the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham, forcing the team to go back to the capital for a replacement vehicle.

Despite the delay, the experts had a "very productive" day in the rebel-controlled Ghouta area outside Damascus, where the opposition alleges the Assad regime staged a chemical attack that killed more than 1,000 people last Wednesday, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

Doctors Without Borders said its local partners reported 355 deaths in connection with the purported chemical assault.

The team interviewed victims of the alleged attack and took skin and hair samples, an opposition activist who accompanied the U.N. inspectors told Efe by telephone.

The U.N. mission, which arrived in Syria before the ostensible chemical attack last week, spent about three hours in Moadamiyet al-Sham, according to Wasim al Ahmed.

With the U.N. probe barely under way, the U.S. government signaled Monday that it has no doubt the Assad regime forces used chemical weapons and is already considering a possible response.

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world," Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington. "By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."

"President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people," the secretary said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, who initially called the allegations of chemical weapons use an "insult to common sense," amplified his denial Monday in comments to Russian daily Izvestia.

"The area of the claimed attack is in contiguity with the Syrian army positions, so how is it possible that any country would use chemical weapons in an area where its own forces are located?" Assad said.

More than 92,000 people died in Syria's internal conflict between March 2011 and April 2013, according to a report released in June by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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