Three Syrian sites that remain still secret will be the objects of a United Nations investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the battle between President Bashar Al-Assad’s army and Syrian rebel factions. Although a U.N. official has admitted that investigators will not be naming those responsible, inspectors will arrive in Syria in the coming days after they were granted permission to inspect by both the government and rebel factions, who have now been fighting for two and half years.
The village of Khan al-Assal, on the outskirts of Aleppo, is the only location that has been disclosed. The village was captured last week by rebel forces before the Syrian army carried out a counteroffensive Wednesday. Both the government and rebels are accusing each other of using chemical weapons on Khan al-Assal in a battle on March 19, killing 30 people.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky confirmed that investigations will be held on Khan al-Assal village. Nesirky said that the mandate of the investigation team is to report on whether chemical weapons were used, and if so which chemical, but not to determine the responsibility for an attack.
U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said in a communique that “the mission will travel to Syria as soon as possible to contemporaneously investigate three of the reported incidents, including Khan al-Assal.”
The two other sites to be investigated will be “kept confidential as a safety and security precaution,” said Neisrky. Thirteen reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria were sent to the U.N., according to the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East, Robert Serry, who spoke to the Security Council last week.
Despite its permission to the U.N. team to investigate Khan al-Assal, Assad’s government is still opposed to the request formulated by Ban to extend the investigators’ access to probe reports forwarded by the U.S., British and French about the use of sarin gas by Assad’s troops during fighting in Homs, Damas and Aleppo last spring. Sarin gas is used as a chemical weapon owing to its extreme potency as a nerve agent. It has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction in UN Resolution 687.
In a statement issued Friday, the Syrian National Coalition said that it is offering its “full cooperation with the investigation team, particularly in assuring their unfettered access into liberated areas.” The Syrian National Coalition said it sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterating this.
The Syrian opposition said it wants the U.N. secretary-general to consider the need to begin the investigations immediately. According to the statement issued Friday, then coalition said it “demands that any individuals found to be involved in the deployment of chemical weapons in Syria be held accountable for these crimes.”
The U.N. has estimated that over 100,000 people have been killed in the central province of Homs and near Damascus, during heavy fighting between the Syrian government and rebels trying to oust President Assad.
President Assad appeared shortly Friday on Syria national television and said he is sure on the victory on the “aggression”.
Both Assad and rebels seem to be enthusiastic about the U.N. investigation on Khan al-Assal. Certainly, they know that the U.N. investigators are unlikely to name those guilty of using chemical weapons even if it is proven that they were actually used.
Sources: BBC, Reuters, AP and Los Angeles Times