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Russia: Chemical Weapons Claims in Syria Need Objective Investigation

Russia has called on its ally Syria to cooperate with U.N. experts and allow them to investigate allegations that chemical weapons were used near Damascus this week by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

A foreign ministry statement said Friday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed during a phone call that the Syrian opposition claims should undergo an objective investigation. Russia also said rebels opposed to the Syrian government should guarantee safe passage for the U.N. mission.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would amount to a "crime against humanity" that would result in "serious consequences." He has said the U.N. has formally asked Syria to let U.N. personnel "swiftly investigate" the scene of Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attack. Syria has denied using chemical weapons.

U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN that officials are currently gathering information about the reports. He said a possible chemical attack in Syria is " clearly a big event of grave concern."

Mr. Obama also said the "core national interests" of the United States are now involved with Syria's civil war, such as making sure weapons of mass destruction are not involved, and the need to protect U.S. allies and bases in the region.

Syrian opposition leaders and activists accuse the Syrian government of using poison gas in an artillery and rocket assault on rebel-held Damascus suburbs. They say hundreds of civilians were killed, and released video of scores of bodies of adults and children lying on the ground without signs of injury. Neither the number of people killed nor the cause of death could be independently confirmed.

Mr. Assad's government rejected the allegations of chemical weapons being used. It has accused the opposition of using chemical weapons earlier this year near Aleppo. A U.N. team is already on the ground in Syria investigating those claims.

On Thursday in a statement released through his spokesman, Mr. Ban said he expects to receive a "positive response" from the Syrian government to the request to investigate Wednesday's incident. The U.N. chief said he also asked Under Secretary General Angela Kane to visit Damascus to follow up on the matter.

In a briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called on the Syrian government to allow the U.N. inspectors to interview witnesses, collect physical samples and have unfettered access to the areas suspected of being hit by chemical weapons.

France said the international community must respond with force if the Syrian opposition allegations are true. But, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ruled out the use of ground troops.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also called for international action, saying a "red line" has been crossed in Syria.

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