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'Every hour counts' for UN chemical arms probe

Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assed has said claims that his regime used chemical weapons were an “insult to common sense”.

UN CHIEF BAN Ki-Moon has said there was no time to waste as UN experts prepared to investigate a suspected Syrian chemical attack, with Washington suggesting the probe was already too late.

“Every hour counts. We cannot afford any more delays,” Ban told reporters in Seoul, hours before a UN team was due to inspect the site of last week’s alleged chemical attack near Damascus.

imageSyrian girl shouts anti-President Assad slogans, and holds photos of Syrian children who died in the alleged poison gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus, during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan. Pic: AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon


The Syrian authorities green-lighted the inspection yesterday, but US officials said it was too little, too late, arguing that persistent shelling of the site in recent days had “corrupted” the site.

“The world is watching Syria,” the secretary general said, stressing once again that the UN experts must be allowed to conduct a “full, thorough and unimpeded” investigation.

“We cannot allow impunity in what appears to be a grave crime against humanity,” said Ban.

Syria’s opposition says more than 1,300 people died when regime forces unleashed chemical weapons against rebel-held towns east and southwest of Damascus Wednesday, while Doctors Without Borders said 355 people had died of “neurotoxic” symptoms.

Damascus has strongly denied it carried out such an attack, instead blaming the rebels.

Ban said the success of the UN investigation was “in everyone’s interest” and would have an important “deterrent impact” on the possible future use of chemical weapons.

“If proven, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is a serious violation of international law and an outrageous crime,” he added.


Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Western claims his regime used chemical weapons were an “insult to common sense” and warned the United States it faced failure if it attacked Syria, in an interview with a Russian newspaper published today.

Assad told pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia in the extensive interview that Syria would never be a “puppet” of the West and said Washington had never succeeded in reaching its political aims through war.

Assad accused the United States of first making the accusations that his regime used chemical weapons in an attack outside Damascus that activists say killed hundreds, and only later starting to look for proof.


A Palestinian member from Youth Salafists group chants slogans in front of a poster depicting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Egyptian military chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a protest in Rafah Refugee Camp, southern Gaza Strip. Pic: AP Photo/Adel Hana

He said the frontline in the area where the incident took place was not clear and the Syrian regime would have risked killing its own army forces if it used chemical weapons.

With calls mounting for military action against Syria, Assad warned Western states to stop interfering in the affairs of other countries and instead “listen to the opinion of the people”.

If someone is dreaming of making Syria a puppet of the West, then this will not happen. We are an independent state, we will fight against terrorism and we will build relations with whom we want for the good of the Syrian people.

He warned the United States against attacking Syria and argued Washington’s previous military campaigns in recent years had always fallen short of their aims.

The United States faces failure just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days.

“America has taken part in many wars but could not once achieve its political goals for which the wars were started. Yes, it is true, the great powers can wage wars but can they win them?” he asked.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned US Secretary of State John Kerry over the “extremely dangerous consequences” of launching military action against the Syrian regime, the foreign ministry said today.

Lavrov told Kerry in a telephone call yesterday that Moscow was “deeply alarmed” by official US statements indicating a readiness to intervene in Syria.

“Sergei Lavrov drew attention to the extremely dangerous consequences of a possible new military intervention for the whole Middle East and North Africa region,” it said in a statement.

- © AFP, 2013

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