Syria okays UN chemical arms probe | US weighs military action

Damascus, Aug 26: UN experts on Monday will start investigating the site of an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack after a go-ahead from Damascus, as a sceptical Washington said Syria's acceptance had come too late.

In an escalation of a showdown over a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week, the United States pointed the finger of blame at President Bashar al-Assad's regime as it weighed military action.


"There is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident," based on the reported number of victims and their symptoms, as well as US and other foreign intelligence, one official in Washington told a news agency.

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 on August 21, 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. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a Jerusalem press conference on Sunday there was "no doubt" the Damascus regime was behind the suspected attack. "From the moment the substance of the facts is established incontestably (by the UN inspectors), there will necessarily be a strong response," he added.

Moscow bluntly warned the West that military action against the Syrian regime would be a "tragic mistake". "We strongly urge those who, by attempting to impose their own results on the UN experts, are raising the possibility of a military operation in Syria to use their common sense and refrain from committing a tragic mistake," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Kasevich's said in a statement.

Syria's foreign ministry said that visiting UN disarmament envoy Angela Kane struck the accord with the Syrian government on Sunday for a probe. The United Nations said in a statement the investigation would begin as early astomorrow.

US officials said President Barack Obama, who held crisis talks yesterday with top security aides, would make an "informed decision" about how to respond to an "indiscriminate" chemical weapons attack.


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