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Syria

US, UN call for deeper look into Syria chemical weapons

The US defense secretary says the US and allies will continue investigating allegations of chemical weapons in Syria. On Monday opposition groups reported a bombing in Damascus on a government convoy.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel refused to discuss whether the US could take unilateral action against the Syrian regime or if the administration would act only in concert with allies. The Obama administration announced last week that US intelligence had concluded that Syrian government forces likely used chemical agents against rebels in two attacks, but reported "varying degrees of confidence" about the magnitude of the attack.

"We are continuing to assess what happened: when, where," Hagel said. "I think we should wait to get the facts before we make any judgments on what action, if any should be taken, and what kind of action."

US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have accused Syria of using chemical weapons - likely the nerve agent sarin - on two occasions. Britain, France, Israel and Qatar also allege that Syria has used chemical weapons in the two-year civil war.

‘Enormous consequences'

Obama has said that use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, or the transfer of stockpiles to terrorists, would cross a "red line" and have "enormous consequences." Members of Congress have demanded that the US protect Syrian rebels and those sympathetic to them with either a safe zone or a no-fly zone over parts of the country.

The international community has also called for an investigation into the allegations of chemical weapons, but the Syrian regime wants any inquiry limited to an incident in the Khan al-Assal village in the Aleppo province in March that reportedly killed 31 people. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a broader investigation, one that would include a December incident in Homs.

On Monday, state television reported that Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi was targeted in a Damascus attack on a government convoy but was not hurt. In addition to the official report by state media, Hezbollah's al-Manar television and the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the attack. Six people were killed in the blast, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Syria's two-year conflict has left more than 70,000 people dead, according to UN estimates.

mkg/ch (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)