The UN Security Council called for “clarity” over allegations of a chemical weapons attack on the eastern suburbs of Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, as activists estimated the death toll at between 500 and 1,300.
The United Nations Security Council said on Wednesday that allegations of a chemical weapons attack on the eastern suburbs of Syria’s capital Damascus needed to be carefully examined, as opposition activists estimated that between 500 and 1,300 people had been killed in the bombardment.
“There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely,” Argentina’s UN ambassador, Maria Cristina Perceval, told reporters after a closed-door emergency meeting of the council.
While the council did not explicitly demand a UN investigation into the incident, it did welcome UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s call for a prompt investigation by the 20-member UN inspection team currently in Syria to probe previous allegations over the use of chemical weapons. There has to be an official request from the UN before the inspectors can visit the site of this latest alleged attack and at this point the team will not visit the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Syria’s government has denied opposition accusations that it was responsible for gassing hundreds of people in the eastern Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar, with Information Minister Omran Zoabi calling the allegations “illogical and fabricated”.
France, Britain, the United States and others called for an immediate on-site investigation by UN chemical weapons inspectors who arrived in the Syrian capital only this week. Moscow, urging an “objective” inquiry, said the very presence of that team suggested government forces were not to blame.
The United States and others said it had no independent confirmation that chemical weapons had been used. UN chief Ban said the head of the inspection team in Damascus was already discussing the latest claims with the government.
However immediate international action is likely to be limited, with world powers divided over how to best end Syria's more than two-year-old conflict.
'Foam in their mouths'
If it is confirmed that chemical weapons were used in Wednesday's pre-dawn attack, it would be the worst such attack since the 1980s.
Doctors interviewed described symptoms they believe point to sarin gas, one of the agents Western powers accuse Damascus of having in an undeclared chemical weapons stockpile.
A nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, said: “Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims.”
Extensive amateur video and photographs appeared on the Internet showing victims choking, some foaming at the mouth.
A video purportedly shot in the Kafr Batna neighbourhood showed a room filled with more than 90 bodies, many of them children and a few women and elderly men. Most of the bodies appeared ashen or pale but with no visible injuries.
Other footage showed doctors treating people in makeshift clinics. One video showed the bodies of a dozen people lying on the floor of a clinic. A voice-over said they were members of a single family. In a corridor outside lay another five bodies.
Syria is one of just a handful of countries that are not parties to the international treaty that bans chemical weapons, and Western nations believe it has caches of undeclared mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-08-22