Thursday, August 22, 2013

UN calls for probe of Syria gas attack; Pakistan stresses cessation of hostilities


UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 (APP): The U.N. Security Council, which met in an emergency session on Wednesday, called for “a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation” of the latest allegation of chemical weapons use in Syria.“There is a strong concern among council members about the allegations and a general sense that there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed closely,” Argentina’s U.N. ambassador, Maria Cristina Perceval, the current Security Council president, told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation body.The United States, Britain and France are among around 35 countries that called for chief U.N. investigator Ake Sellstrom, whose team is currently in Syria, to investigate the incident as soon as possible.

Syrian anti-government activists accused President Bashar Assad’s government of carrying out a toxic gas attack that killed at least 100 people, including many children as they slept. The government denied using chemicalweapons.
Western news agencies reports said there were scores of bodies - some of them small children - laid on the floor of a clinic with no visible signs of injury following the alleged attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
PAKISTAN:
“We are deeply troubled by the media reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons - Sarin gas - around Damascus,” Pakistan’s U.N. Ambassador Masood Khan told the meeting, while calling for an impartial investigation, according to diplomatic sources.  “If proved, this would be a disastrous escalation and a noxious precedent,” he said, adding that the use of poisonous gas was “condemnable”.
At the same time, he  questioned the claims about the Syrian government’s involvement in the gas attack, the sources said.
“It seems totally counter-intuitive that the Syrian Government would use chemical weapons, especially after  allowing the UN team, led by Ake Sellstrom, into the country to investigate the use of such weapons,” Ambassador Masood Khan told the Security Council. “It would be a most brazen and defiant move on part of the Syrian Government to implicate itself under the glare of international spotlight.”
Noting Syrian Government’s denial of the use of gas and the opposition activists’ insistance that it has, the Pakistani envoy said it was extremely important to determine facts through an impartial investigation.
“We have heard claims and counter-claims in the past too from Government and opposition,” Masood Khan said, adding: “The veracity of these claims has to be ascertained beyond a shadow of doubt.”
RUSSIA/CHINA:
During the private Council meeting, Russia and China, which support the Syrian government, blocked a stronger press statement supported by Britain, France, the United States and others, according to western diplomats who declinedto be named. But Russia and China agreed that the council president could sum up the session with “press elements” close to the weakest response from the U.N.’s most powerful body, the diplomats said,  PROBE:
Ambassador Perceval, the Council’s president,  said Council members “welcomed the determination of the secretary-general (Ban Ki-moon) to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation.”
“All council members agreed that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances is a violation of international law,” she said.
“There was also an agreement for a strong call for a cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire. (and) the need for immediate humanitarian assistance to the victims.”
The attack coincided with the visit to Syria by a 20-member U.N. chemical weapons team which only has a mandate to investigate three previous allegations of chemical weapons use.
U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who briefed the Council, expressed hope that the Syrian government will give the team access to the site as soon as possible, though he cautioned that “the security situation right nowdoes not allow such access.”
This represents, no matter what conclusions are, a serious escalation with grave humanitarian consequences and human consequences,” Eliasson stressed.
He called for a cessation of hostilities not only in the area of the alleged attack but throughout Syria, where the U.N. says more than 100,000 people have been killed in the 2 ½ year conflict.
“What this incident has shown is, of course, that we must contain this conflict,” Eliasson said.
“We have already seen effects on the regional implications, and now, the possibility of the use of chemical weapons which is to be investigated.”
A U.N. spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, said the head of the U.N. team, Swedish professor Ake Sellstrom, is in discussions with the Syrian government on all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident.
He said the secretary-general was aware that a number of member states, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed ‘grave concern’ about the latest alleged attack.
“The secretary-general reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by member states,” del Buey said.
At the Council meeting, some diplomats cautioned that the mandate for the current investigation is limited.
“The current UN investigations team is not mandated to to  affix responsibility but to establish whether or not chemical weapons have indeed been used,” Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan told the meeting, according  todiplomatic sources.
CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES:
“Once the use of chemical weapons  is confirmed, a new mechanism could be created by the United Nations with the mandate to assign responsibility and recommend further measures,” he said.
“A credible, professional and objective evaluation of the alleged claims of the past is of utmost importance.” He urged  the Syrian Government to cooperate fully with the UN team.
“The right course of action is that the UN team on the ground be authorized to visit the site to establish the release of Sarin gas as a weapon.”
Masood Khan also called for cessation of hostilities, saying, “The death toll is very high. The scale of hostilities is alarming. Killings have to stop.
Immediate humanitarian  assistance should be given to the victims.”
He said ceasefire was needed not only for investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons but to stop massive killings. “We do agree that the Government and opposition should be persuaded to move swiftly to Geneva, to thenegotiating table.”

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