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WAR REPORT
Obama vows 'vigorous' probe into Syria chemical arms claims
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 26, 2013


Chemical weapons claims 'barefaced lie': Syrian minister
Moscow, Russia (AFP) April 27, 2013 - US and British accusations that the regime in Damascus may have used chemical weapons on rebels are a "barefaced lie," Syria's information minister said Saturday.

"First of all, I want to confirm that statements by the US Secretary of State and British government are inconsistent with reality and a barefaced lie," Omran al-Zohbi said in an interview published on Russia's RT news website.

"I want to stress one more time that Syria would never use it -- not only because of its adherence to the international law and rules of leading war, but because of humanitarian and moral issues," Zohbi said in comments published in English on the Kremlin-funded website.

US President Barack Obama on Friday warned Syria that proof of the use of chemical weapons would be a "game changer," after the US, Israel and Britain all cited possible signs that the regime had used the deadly nerve agent sarin.

In comments on Saturday at a meeting in Moscow with Russian deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, the Syrian minister linked the chemical weapons accusations to what he said was the recent military success of government forces.

"I want to give you joy: there are qualitative changes on the battlefields. The uproar from the Americans that has arisen in the last 48 hours is due to this," he was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency in comments translated into Russian.

Zohbi on Friday alleged that chemical weapons were used by rebels and originated in Turkey.

"The rocket flew from a place that is controlled by terrorists and is not far from Turkish soil. One can suggest that the arms were brought in from Turkey," Zobhi said at a news conference in comments translated into Russian and published by the Interfax news agency.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon has called on Syria to approve a UN mission of inspectors to probe the alleged use of chemical weapons in the spiralling two-year conflict which has left more than 70,000 dead.

But Zohbi told RT that the Syrian government could not trust UN inspectors from Britain and the United States.

"We do not trust the American and British experts from a political point of view," Zobhi said.

"We also do not trust their qualifications. Their aim is to juggle with facts."

He added that the Syrian government would accept Russian inspectors.

"We won't mind if Russians would be among the experts, quite the contrary, we only welcome this idea. We are quite sure in their high qualification and ability to clearly see into such matters," he said.

Along with China, Russia has blocked several UN Security Council draft resolutions threatening sanctions against Bashar Al-Assad's regime.

Claims that chemical weapons have been used in Syria should not become a pretext for a foreign military intervention in the country, Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is President Vladimir Putin's Middle East envoy, said on Saturday.

"We need to check out the accuracy of this information right away according to international criteria, but not in order to use this information to achieve other aims," said Bogdanov, during a visit to Beirut, cited by Interfax.

"It must not become an alibi for intervention in Syria."

US President Barack Obama on Friday promised a "vigorous investigation" into reports Syrian forces fired chemical weapons and renewed his warning that proof of their use would be a "game changer."

Obama delivered the warning during talks at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan, as he faced rising political pressure for a military intervention in the vicious Syrian civil war.

He told reporters that US authorities had "some evidence that chemical weapons have been used on the population in Syria, these are preliminary assessments, they're based on our intelligence gathering."

"We have varying degrees of confidence about the actual use, there's a range of questions about how, when, where these weapons have been used," he said.

The president said that Washington would pursue a "very vigourous investigation and would work with its partners towards a definitive answer on the chemical weapons issues as soon as possible.

He said that as horrific as it was that civilians face mortar fire and other attacks, the use of chemical weapons "crosses another line."

"That is going to be a game changer ... we have to make assessments deliberately but I think all of us, not just the United States, but around the world, have to recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations.

"This is going to be something that we're going to be paying a lot of attention to, trying to confirm, mobilize the international community around those issues"

Investigators collecting Syria chemical weapons evidence: UN
United Nations (AFP) April 26, 2013 - UN investigators have started collecting evidence outside Syria on the suspected use of chemical weapons while UN leader Ban Ki-moon presses for access, a spokesman said Friday.

Ban wrote a new letter to President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday seeking access as the United States revealed its suspicions that chemical arms have been used, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.

"The secretary general urges the Syrian government to respond swiftly and favorably so that this mission can carry out its work in Syria," Nesirky said.

Ban named Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom on March 21 to head the UN inquiry after a request by Syria, Britain and France.

Sellstrom, a veteran of international weapons investigations in Iraq, will be in New York on Monday for talks with the UN leader on the efforts carried out so far.

He has already been in London this week and some information was handed over, diplomats said.

The Assad government has refused to let the investigators into the country, demanding that the inquiry be limited to its claims that chemical weapons were used near Aleppo on March 19.

Britain and France want it expanded to include opposition claims that chemical arms had also been used in Homs and near Damascus.

The UN team has been in Cyprus waiting but Nesirky said "they have been doing quite a lot, precisely because information has been provided and information is available without actually visiting Syria."

The experts "have been collating and analyzing the evidence and the information that is available to date from outside."

Western nations are believed to have handed over to the UN the accounts of witnesses who have fled Syria and some samples, diplomats said.

Nesirky said that while waiting for access the Sellstrom team "will continue with these offsite activities and that may include visits to relevant capitals."

The US administration said Thursday that Syria probably used chemical weapons on a "small scale," during the two-year-old conflict. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday there was growing evidence of their use.

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