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UN to Launch Syria Chemical Weapons Probe

A citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows black smoke rising from buildings due to government forces shelling, in Aleppo, Syria, March 19, 2013.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced Thursday he will send a mission to Syria to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use.

At a hastily-called news conference, Ban said that if chemical weapons have been used, it would constitute an “outrageous crime.” He said he plans to dispatch investigators as soon as possible.

The Syrian government on Wednesday asked Ban to establish an independent inquiry into government claims that rebels conducted a chemical weapons' attack in the province of Aleppo on Tuesday.

“The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government," said Ban. "I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons.”

The other cases he refers to would include opposition claims that Syrian government forces carried out chemical weapons' attacks both in the Aleppo area and in Damascus.

Western countries said Wednesday they would ask the U.N. chief to look into these cases as well.

Rebels say Assad forces were responsible for an attack in the northwest part of Aleppo that killed more than 20 people and wounded another 80.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States also will investigate thoroughly reports of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Broad investigation

Ban said his investigators would receive support and cooperation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization. He urged all parties in Syria to cooperate with the mission, including giving unfettered access to investigators.

"Again, my announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity," he said. "The international community needs full assurance that chemical weapons stockpiles are verifiably safeguarded.”

Ban said he has emphasized repeatedly to the Syrian government that it holds primary responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of any such weapons or materials.

Syria has never confirmed that it possesses chemical weapons, but has said if it does have them it would only use them if attacked by a foreign aggressor and not against its own people.