Last updated: 28 August, 2013

UN team back from site of alleged Syria chemical hit

UN inspectors on Wednesday inspected a second site on the outskirts of the Syrian capital suspected of being hit by a deadly chemical weapons attack last week, opposition activists said.

An AFP cameraman filmed the team of arms experts as they set off from the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus in a convoy of six UN-marked jeeps, a day after their work was suspended over safety concerns.

They later arrived in the Eastern Ghouta area on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus under the protection of rebel fighters, said the Syrian Revolution General Commission activist group, citing the opposition forces.

The inspectors braved sniper fire when they initially tried to enter Eastern Ghouta on Monday, with bullets hitting their tyres and the front window of the lead vehicle, the United Nations said.

Later that day, they were able to enter Moadamiyet al-Sham southwest of Damascus to collect evidence of the other main area allegedly hit by chemical weapons on August 21.

But they were unable to return to Eastern Ghouta as planned on Tuesday because their safety could not be guaranteed.

The 13 UN inspectors and seven translators and backup staff arrived in Syria on August 18 to start an investigation into whether chemical weapons have been used in the 29-month old conflict that has left more than 100,000 dead.

The inspectors, whose 14-day mandate expires this weekend, are only allowed to find whether chemical weapons have been used in the war, not identify who fired them.

Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime say hundreds of people, including dozens of children, when his forces unleashed toxic gases on Eastern Ghouta and Moadamiyet al-Sham on August 21.

The regime strongly denies the claim, blaming the rebels.

The opposition said in a statement Wednesday that the attacks were carried out with a locally modified version of surface-to-surface missiles bought from Egypt and Iran and capable of carrying chemical warheads.

More than 35 surface-to-surface missiles were fired in three salvos from the Qalamoun region of Damascus, the statement added, with some of them carrying the chemical warheads.

The United States and its allies have already blamed the Assad regime for the use of the banned arms and are now reportedly considering military strikes in retaliation.