U.N. inspectors have reached a Damascus suburb to meet victims of suspected chemical weapon attacks, after the Syrian government accepted international demands to grant access to the team.
Syrian state television said Monday that troops escorted the inspectors to the southwestern suburb of Moadamiyeh, one of several rebel-held districts where the August 21 attacks happened.
Syrian opposition activists said the U.N. team visited a makeshift hospital in Moadamiyeh to speak with survivors of the attacks and take samples.
Rebels and the Syrian government have blamed each other for the killings of hundreds of civilians in the incidents.
Western powers say they believe forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were responsible. Leaders of the United States, Britain and France have been discussing what action to take in response, raising the prospect of Western military intervention in Syria's two-year conflict.
The foreign minister of Russia, a key Assad ally, said Western powers "cannot produce any evidence" that the Syrian government committed the alleged chemical attack.
Speaking Monday, Sergei Lavrov accused the West of "hysteria" and warned that any military action against Damascus would be a "gross violation of international law."
The highest concentration of casualties from last Wednesday's attacks were reported in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. It was not clear when the U.N. team would visit that location.
As the inspectors arrived in Moadamiyeh, snipers fired at one of their vehicles, damaging it and forcing the team to return to a government checkpoint before heading inside the rebel district. No one was hurt. The Syrian government accused armed terrorists of targeting the inspectors.
Earlier Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the success of the U.N. inspectors' mission could deter the future use of chemical weapons in Syria and elsewhere.
"All those in Syria have a stake in finding out the truth," Ban said. "The whole world should be concerned about any threat or use of chemical weapons, and that is why the world is watching Syria."
A senior Obama administration official said Sunday the U.N. team may not be able to accomplish much because the Syrian government prevented the inspectors from visiting the alleged attack sites for five days.
The official said the delay meant available evidence had been "significantly corrupted as a result of the regime's persistent shelling and other intentional actions."