08/23/2013, 00.00
SYRIA - UNITED NATIONS

Ban Ki-moon calls on Assad and the rebels to allow an investigation into the use of chemical weapons

UN secretary general calls on both sides to refrain from obstructing the quest for the truth. Footage showing people suffocated by chemical agents is real, but Syria and Russia accuse the rebels of manipulation. The fog of war makes a peace conference hard to organise.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressed for a UN team to gain access to the site of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, calling on the Assad regime and the rebels to help find the truth about the incident.

"Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law," Ban said in Seoul, where he is participating at a UN event. "Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator."

A UN team of chemical experts is already in Damascus to verify the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo in recent months. But the matter has become more urgent after footage was posted online, showing dozens of dead people with no apparent injuries and others, including women and children, hospitalised with breathing problems.

Rebels accuse the Assad regime of shelling Damascus suburb of Ghouta with chemical weapons, killing at least 1,300 people.

In the videos, posted on the internet, rows of corpses are seen, wrapped in shrouds; children are seen breathing with oxygen masks; adults have eyes wide open, in convulsion, foam at the mouth. According to medical experts, the symptoms are those of gas poisoning. However, no independent confirmation of chemical weapons use has been made so far.

For their part, the rebels, who accuse Assad's forces, have denied manipulating the images. Photography experts waded into the controversy, saying that the footage was not manipulated and it was shot on Wednesday, the day of the bombing in Ghouta.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he saw "no good reason" for the government or the opposition to deny a chance to get to the truth of what happened.

Damascus denies having used chemical weapons, especially in the presence of UN experts to Syria, because it would be "political suicide".

Russia, the regime's key international ally, described opposition claims as a "premeditated provocation" designed to win UN support.

For France, Great Britain and especially the United States, the possible use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line" for armed intervention by the international community against Assad, or open military support to the opposition.

In Syria, the start of the "Arab Spring" over two years ago has turned into a civil war and an international confrontation between Russia, China and Iran, who support the Assad regime, and the United States, the European Union, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who back the rebels.

The situation is even more complicated by the presence among the rebels of Islamist groups from Iraq, Sudan, Chechnya and other Islamic countries.

Since the start of the civil war, more than 100,000 people have died in Syria and at least 2 million have become refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many UN missions have tried unsuccessfully to broker a cease-fire. Even the idea of ​​a peace conference, which was floated last year in Geneva, has been difficult to implement because of divisions among the members of the UN Security Council and attempts by Assad and the rebels to boost their respective positions.

In a recent statement, Ban Ki-moon Ban said he was working closely with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to convene a peace conference in Geneva "as soon as possible" to settle the Syria crisis.

However, dubbed "Geneva II," the  meeting has yet to materialise, after being repeatedly put off since May with no set dates or deadlines.

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