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Syria

Syria urged by the UN to allow investigation of alleged chemical weapons attack

The United Nations has asked the Syrian government to authorize a UN team of experts, already in the country, to investigate reported use of chemical weapons. The alleged attack killed at least 100 people.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to allow a UN team of chemical weapons experts to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons outside the capital.

UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey says Ban remains "deeply troubled" by the alleged attack Wednesday in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, which killed at least 100 people. Some opposition activists, however, have put the death toll much higher, above 1,000 people. The number of deaths has not been independently verified.

Del Buey said the UN chief "takes positive note" of the UN Security Council's meeting Wednesday backing his call for "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation."

The reports of the chemical attack came as a 20-member UN team was in Syria to investigate sites where similar attacks had allegedly occurred. Both the government and opposition forces alleged the other used chemical weapons.

UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay on Thursday called the most recent chemical weapons allegations "exceptionally grave" and said they must be investigated as soon as possible.

"The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under customary international law," she said in a statement. "This absolute prohibition applies in all circumstances... it is binding on the government despite it not being party to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. It is also binding on anti-government armed groups."

World leaders express concern

In the wake of the alleged attack, world leaders have also demanded that the UN team be granted immediate access to the site.

The United States said Thursday it has yet to "conclusively determine" that chemical weapons were used. However, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "If these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant escalation of use of chemical weapons by the regime.”

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday condemned the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria as “terribly disturbing.”

"If verified, it will be a horrible addition to the roster of tragic crimes committed by the Syrian regime against its people," Netanyahu said.

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, "If the Syrians [government] refuse, it means they've been caught red-handed.”

At a meeting in Berlin Thursday with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a red line had been crossed in Syria.

"We call on the international community in this situation where the red line was crossed long ago to intervene as soon as possible," Davutoglu said. "If we don't manage to pass sanctions, we will lose the power to create a deterrent," he added. "If we don't act decisively, even worse massacres will follow."

Westerwelle called for UN weapons inspectors "to be granted immediate access to investigate the allegations," and said the charges were "so serious, so monstrous, that it is necessary to enable a real examination before talking or speculating about consequences."

hc/lw (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)