The UN has announced that they will send weapons inspectors to Syria in order to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons by Bashar Assad. The UN team has made plans to visit three sites over the course of two weeks, including a northern town at the centre of allegations of chemical weapons use. All plans have been made with the acceptance of authorities in Damascus.
About 26 people were killed in the attacks in Khan al-Assal in March. The delay to the UN mission had been over differences with the Syrian government over the scope of the investigation. On 31st July the Syrian government finally agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit the sites and only this passing Wednesday the UN said its team had completed preparations for the trip. The mandate of the 10-member investigating team is led by Swedish arms expert Ake Sellstroem. The investigation, however, is limited to reporting on whether chemical weapons were actually used and which ones, and it will not determine responsibility for any attacks.
The UN has confirmed that the trip was “extendable upon mutual consent” after the first two weeks and they have also confirmed that the locations to be investigated have not been identified so far. A Syrian foreign ministry official told the AFP news agency the investigating team was expected to arrive very soon, possibly in the net few days. “There were no difficulties in the negotiations and Syria said it is ready to give the team all the facilities it needs to carry out its mission,” the UN official claimed, also adding: “Syria has nothing to hide.”
More than 100,000 people have now been killed during the 28-month conflict, as what started out as anti-government protests inspired by the Arab Spring rapidly descended into a full-scale civil war in Syria. The possibility of President Bashar al-Assad using Syria’s chemical weapons stock is a factor that has most worried Western observers of the conflict. The UN says it has received more than 10 reports of chemical weapons use in Syria – one from the Damascus government about the events at Khan al-Assal, with the rest mainly from the UK, France and USA. What is also worrying to note is that Syria is one of seven countries that have not joined the 1997 convention banning chemical weapons. On top of this fact, Syria is suspected to possess large undeclared stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin nerve agent.