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Syria facing growing pressure to allow chemical weapons probe

There is growing international pressure on Syria to cooperate with UN inspectors following an alleged chemical weapons attack. Meanwhile, the number of Syrian children forced to flee the country has hit a million.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday reiterated his demand that the government of Syrian President Bashar al.Assad grant immediate access to a UN inspection team.

The team of about 20 inspectors were already in the country to look into previous allegations of the use of chemical weapons in the conflict, when reports of Wednesday's alleged attack emerged.

So far, there has been no proof that chemical weapons were used in the attack, which the opposition claims killed at least 500 people, but video footage posted on the internet by activists caused revulsion all over the world, including images of unconscious children and people foaming from the mouth.

"Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator," Ban told a diplomatic forum in Seoul. "This is a grave challenge to the entire international community, and to our common humanity."

President Barack Obama called the alleged chemical weapons attack "a big event of grave concern," but added that the United States would continue to seek conclusive evidence.

"This is something that is going to require America's attention," Obama said.

Russian backing

Russia, which has often been at odds with other countries over how best to try to bring the bloodshed in Syria to an end, supported Ban’s demand.

According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Friday, the "Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN chemical experts" immediately after the allegations of the attack emerged. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had subsequently used a telephone conversation to inform his American counterpart, John Kerry, of Russia’s position on the matter, according to the statement. Still, Russia put the onus on the Syrian opposition.

"It is now up to the opposition to ensure safe access for the mission to the site of the alleged incident," the statement read.

One million child refugees

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children's Fund, (UNICEF) has said that the number of children forced to flee Syria has climbed to a million.

UNICEF's executive director, Anthony Lake, used a statement to remind the international community that this was much more than a number.

"This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend," Lake said in the statement.

"We must all share the shame because while we work to alleviate the suffering of those affected by this crisis, the global community has failed in its responsibility to this child," he added.

Lake also said that, according to UN figures, 7,000 of the more than 100,000 people killed since the conflict in Syria broke out more than two years ago were children.

pfd/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)