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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid