News / Middle East

UN Chemical Team Begins Investigation in Syria

Ake Sellstrom (R), the head of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team, arrives in Damascus August 18, 2013.
Ake Sellstrom (R), the head of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team, arrives in Damascus August 18, 2013.
Margaret Besheer
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says a U.N. team of experts began work Monday in Syria investigating whether chemical weapons were used in at least three locations during the country's on-going civil war.  

The U.N. chief established the team of scientific experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization in March, but until now they had been unable to enter Syria because of unresolved issues with the government.

On Monday, Ban Ki-moon told reporters the team had entered the country and started work to determine whether chemical agents had been used.

“This is the first probe of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. I firmly believe that an effective mechanism to investigate allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons will help deter their future use," said  Ban Ki-moon.

Ban said that as agreed between the U.N. and the Syrian government, the team would conduct its activities for up to 14 days and that could be extended upon mutual agreement.  He reiterated that in order to credibly establish the facts, the mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents.  

The mission will try to establish only whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

The United Nations has said one of the sites is Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province. In March, the Syrian government accused rebels of using chemical agents in Khan al-Assal and asked the U.N. to investigate.

The two other sites have not been identified, but are likely to be from a list submitted to the U.N. by Britain, France and the United States.  The Syrian government has resisted allowing inspectors to visit these other sites and held up the mission’s arrival in Syria for months over the issue.

The secretary-general also expressed his growing concern over the spiraling violence in Egypt, where the military has vowed it will not tolerate anti-government protests seeking the return of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

"I strongly condemn attacks on churches, hospitals and other public facilities. There is no justification for targeting civilians or destroying infrastructure and property so important for Egypt's future. Preventing further loss of life should be the highest priority. I urge all Egyptians to exercise maximum restraint and resolve differences peacefully," he said.

The U.N. leader said the Muslim Brotherhood should have more political space and that Morsi should be released from detention.

U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman is in the region and will hold wide-ranging talks starting Tuesday with a focus on how the world body can best support efforts to restore peace and advance reconciliation in Egypt.

The U.N. secretary-general is just back from a visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. He said the U.S. push to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is an opportunity that must not be lost.

Ban said achieving agreement will require vision and courage along with sacrifices, understanding and leadership from both sides. He said the U.N. would continue to work to help find a solution that would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs