News / Middle East

    UN Team Faces Tough Task in Syrian Chemical Probe

    UN Team Faces Tough Task in Syrian Chemical Probei
    X
    March 29, 2013 5:34 PM
    The United Nations is preparing to send a team to Syria to investigate whether chemical weapons were used earlier this month in a deadly rocket attack near Aleppo. VOA's Michael Lipin reports that the investigators are likely to face major challenges from establishing the facts in a war environment to carefully handling suspected chemical samples.
    UN Team Faces Tough Task in Syrian Chemical Probe
    The United Nations is preparing to send a team to Syria to investigate whether chemical weapons were used earlier this month in a deadly rocket attack near Aleppo. Investigators are likely to face major challenges from establishing the facts in a war environment to carefully handling suspected chemical samples.

    Click to EnlargeClick to Enlarge
    x
    Click to Enlarge
    Click to Enlarge
    There were survivors of what the Syrian government says was a chemical weapon attack by rebels on the northern town of Kahn al-Asal.

    Many of the people rushed to a hospital in nearby Aleppo had breathing difficulties but no obvious external wounds. Syrian authorities said a rocket hit the town and emitted a gas that killed about 20 people. Syrian rebels said government forces fired it.

    At Syria's request, the United Nations is preparing to send a team to the area to determine whether chemical weapons actually were used for the first time in Syria's two-year conflict. But, the world body says the mission is not intended to assign blame on either side.

    Leading the team will be Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, who says it will be difficult to figure out what happened in the midst of a civil war. "We will have to try to peel away what is rumor and hearsay, misunderstandings and so on by talking to as many people as possible, try to get a consistent picture," Sellstrom stated.

    Diplomats say U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants the investigators to start work next week and have "unfettered" access to the scene of the attack.

    But, Syria first will have to approve their composition and mandate.

    The Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is expected to appoint a team of eight to 10 experts in chemistry and medicine.

    Amy Smithson, a senior fellow of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, says the investigators have strict guidelines for how to collect suspected chemical samples and deliver them to specialist labs.

    "What is going to be important for international credibility is that any samples be taken with a chain of custody that proves this is where this sample was taken, and that it stayed in a legal chain of custody to the point of analysis so that those results will stand up in front of an international legal court or the international court of opinion," she said.

    Smithson says the investigators may find that commercial chemicals were used in Khan al-Asal -- rather than highly-lethal warfare agents like mustard or nerve gas, as seen here in a Russian stockpile that was destroyed voluntarily in 2002.

    "The chemical weapons convention defines chemical weapons as those classic warfare agents and their delivery systems and any toxic chemical used for military purposes," Smithson explained. "So it does not matter if it is ethyl methyl [an industrial solvent] or VX, which is a nerve agent. You cannot cross that line."

    Syria's rebel factions have denied using any chemical weapons in their battle to oust autocratic President Bashar al-Assad.

    The Syrian government has never confirmed that it possesses chemical weapons. But aides to Assad have suggested that any chemical weapons they may have would be used against foreign aggressors, not Syrians.

    • Animal carcasses lie on the ground, killed by what residents said was a chemical weapon attack days earlier,Khan al-Assal Syria, March 23, 2013.
    • A general view shows Khan al-Assal near where residents say a March 19 chemical weapon attack occurred.
    • Residents and medics transport a Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what they said was a chemical weapon attack near Aleppo, to a hospital, March 19, 2013.
    • People breathe through oxygen masks as they are treated at a hospital in Aleppo, March 19, 2013.
    • A general view shows the site near Aleppo where residents say a March 19 chemical weapon attack occurred.

    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.