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UN chief calls for unfettered probe of Syria attack


A child in the city of Douma in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus was doused with water after being exposed to what is believed to be toxic gas. [Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Beik]

A child in the city of Douma in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus was doused with water after being exposed to what is believed to be toxic gas. [Photo courtesy of Mohammed al-Beik]

The UN Secretary-General on Tuesday (April 10th) called for international investigators to have unfettered access after an alleged chemical attack in Syria, AFP reported.

Rescuers and medics in the town of Douma say at least 48 people died after the alleged poison gas attack in the last opposition-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta.

"Any confirmed use of chemical weapons, by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances, is abhorrent and a clear violation of international law," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

"The seriousness of the recent allegations requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise," he said.

Guterres reaffirmed his full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its fact-finding mission which "should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities", Guterres added.

The OPCW on Tuesday said it will deploy a team to Douma to probe the alleged gas attack.

The announcement came after Syria's government invited the global chemical watchdog to visit Douma, according to state media reports.

Citing a foreign ministry source, state news agency SANA said Syria was ready to co-operate with a fact-finding team.

"The ministry sent a formal invitation to the OPCW to send a team from its fact-finding mission to visit Douma and investigate claims linked to the alleged use of chemical weapons there," it said.

US President Donald Trump was poised Tuesday to decide on possible military action against the Syrian regime, after vowing to respond "forcefully" to the latest alleged chemical atrocity in the country's civil war.

Security Council to vote on new panel

The UN Security Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a US proposal to set up an inquiry to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but the measure is likely to face a veto from Russia.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would propose a "transparent and honest investigation" of the claims, involving the OPCW, at the UNSC meeting.

A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted in the 15-member council and no vetoes from the five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.

Russia has used its veto power 11 times at the council to block action targeting its Syrian ally.

The US is proposing to establish the new panel for one year to work with the OPCW to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks.

France, UK vow strong response

France will retaliate against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if evidence emerges that it was behind the recent suspected chlorine gas attack, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Tuesday.

"If the red line has been crossed, there will be a response," he told Europe 1 radio, adding that intelligence shared by President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump "in theory confirms the use of chemical weapons".

In a phone call Monday night, the two leaders again discussed the alleged chemical attack.

The European Union said "evidence points towards yet another chemical attack by the regime".

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday called for a "strong and robust international response" to the attack.

Speaking with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on the phone, Johnson "underlined the urgent need to investigate what had happened in Douma and to ensure a strong and robust international response", the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The OPCW said Monday it had prepared "preliminary analysis of the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons".

Its director general Ahmet Uzumcu said more information was being gathered "to establish whether chemical weapons were used".

Regional condemnation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday vowed those behind the killings of civilians in Eastern Ghouta would pay a "heavy price".

"I curse those who carried out this massacre. Whoever has done this, the perpetrators will be brought to account and certainly pay a heavy price," Erdogan told a meeting of his party in parliament.

Jordan on Monday condemned the attack, calling for an urgent international investigation.

Government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said Jordan supports the OPCW's "intention to conduct a thorough investigation into this attack, and the adoption of a suitable position by the international community toward its perpetrator".

Saudi Arabia is consulting with its allies about how to respond to the alleged chemical attacks, the kingdom's foreign minister said Tuesday.

"Our position is that those who are responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable and be brought to justice," Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris during a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Bahrain on Monday denounced the alleged attack as "ugly" and stressed "the need to speed up efforts to protect civilians in every part of Syria".

In Doha, Qatar's foreign ministry said it was "deeply shocked by this crime".

"The impunity of war criminals in Syria has led to further atrocities and undermined efforts to achieve justice for the victims," it added.

An official at Kuwait's foreign ministry said the number of casualties in Douma was "painful" and he called for "rapid action by the international community".

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