Under a barrage of international pressure, Syria yesterday gave the green light to a UN probe into an alleged chemical weapons attack as ally Iran warned against US military intervention.
Visiting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane, who was tasked by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish the terms of an inquiry, struck the accord with Damascus for a probe, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The ministry said that a team of UN inspectors who have been in Syria during last week would be authorized to carry out the investigation in the Damascus region, where the opposition claims regime forces unleashed chemical weapons causing more than 1,300 deaths on Wednesday last week.
Damascus has strongly denied that it carried out an attack using chemical arms, instead saying the rebels are to blame.
The ministry’s announcement came as Western pressure grew on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to allow the inspectors access to the site of the alleged attacks, where humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders said 355 people had died of “neurotoxic” symptoms.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the US military was “prepared to exercise whatever option” against Syria, but that intelligence was still being evaluated.
On a visit to Malaysia, Hagel said the US Department of Defense had prepared “options for all contingencies” at US President Barack Obama’s request.
French President Francois Hollande said evidence indicated the regime was to blame for the attacks on rebel-held zones east and southwest of Damascus, while Israel demanded action against its Arab neighbor.
Hollande said there was “a body of evidence indicating that the Aug. 21 attack was chemical in nature and that everything led to the belief that the Syrian regime was responsible for this unspeakable act.”
If confirmed, it would be the deadliest use of chemical agents since former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein gassed Iranian troops and Kurdish rebels in the 1980s.
Rebel group al-Nusra Front vowed revenge against villages of al-Assad’s minority Alawite community.
On Saturday, Obama held a rare meeting with his top aides and discussed Syria by telephone with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Cameron’s office said they two leaders agreed the use of chemical weapons would “merit a serious response.”
Obama had said a year ago that the use of chemical weapons by al-Assad’s forces was a “red line” that could trigger Western intervention.
“If the United States crosses this red line, there will be harsh consequences for the White House,” Iranian Deputy Chief of Staff of the armed forces Massoud Jazayeri said, without elaborating.
Pope Francis appealed to the international community to help find a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict while condemning the “proliferation in massacres and atrocities.”
The Arab League is to meet tomorrow to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, league Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Ben Helli said.