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UN must probe Syria gas attacks claim: AI

22 August 2013, 16:00

Beirut - The Syrian government must give access to UN weapons inspectors now in Damascus to the sites of alleged deadly chemical attacks near the capital, human rights organisations have said.

Separate calls by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International came after Syria's opposition accused the regime of President Bashar Assad of massacring more than 1 300 people on Wednesday.

The government has strongly denied the allegations.

"The Syrian authorities... should immediately facilitate the visit of the UN team to Eastern Ghouta and other locations," said Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The team must be given "unimpeded access to all locations to investigate these and any other incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons", Sahraoui said on Wednesday.

Should the allegations be true, "the attacks would amount to war crimes," she said, while renewing Amnesty's call for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Experts not convinced

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that the descriptions its staff heard from witnesses are "consistent with the use of chemical nerve agents".

"A huge number of people in Ghouta are dead, doctors and witnesses are describing horrific details that look like a chemical weapons attack and the government claims it didn't do it," said Joe Stork, HRW's acting Middle East director.

"The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is to let UN inspectors in," Stork added.

HRW cited two doctors describing the symptoms of patients they were treating including suffocation, muscle spasms, frothing at the mouth and pin-point pupils.

"These symptoms are consistent with nerve agent poisoning," said the organisation.

However, some specialists in the effects of chemical weapons have said video evidence was not entirely convincing.

"At the moment, I am not totally convinced because the people that are helping them are without any protective clothing and without any respirators," said Paula Vanninen, director of Verifin, the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"In a real case, they would also be contaminated and would also be having symptoms."

John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said none of the alleged victims showed "pinpoint pupils ... this would indicate exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents".

The inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday with a mandate to investigate three sites for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

They are Khan al-Assal in the northern province of Aleppo, where rebels and the army blamed each other for using chemical weapons in March, as well as Ataybeh near Damascus and Homs in central Syria.



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