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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs