15 Aug 2013

Weapons inspectors get go-ahead for Syria

11:22 pm on 15 August 2013

The United Nations says weapons inspectors are to depart shortly for Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.

Under an agreement reached with Damascus, the BBC reports, he UN team is to visit three sites over two weeks, including a northern town at the centre of allegations of chemical weapons use.

Some 26 people were killed in the attacks in Khan al-Assal in March.

The UN mission had been delayed over differences with the Syrian government over the scope of the investigation.

However, on 31 July the Syrian government agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit the sites. On Wednesday the UN said its team had completed their trip preparations.

The mandate of the 10-man investigating team, led by Swedish arms expert Ake Sellstroem, is limited to reporting on whether chemical weapons were actually used and which ones, but it will not determine responsibility for any attacks, the BBC says.

Two of the locations to be investigated have not been identified so far.

What started out as anti-government protests inspired by the Arab Spring quickly descended into a full-scale civil war in Syria, with more than 100,000 people killed during the 28-month conflict.

The possibility of President Bashar al-Assad using Syria's chemical weapons stock or rebels obtaining some of the stockpiles is one of the factors that has most worried Western observers of the conflict.

The UN says it has received up to 13 reports of chemical weapons use in Syria - one from the Damascus government about the events at Khan al-Assal, with the rest mainly from Britain, France and the United States.

Both sides of the conflict - the rebels and the government - have denied using chemical weapons.