Syria says UN widens chemical weapons probe

Damascus rejects what it says is UN attempt to broaden scope of investigation into alleged chemical weapons attacks.

    Syria will not accept a chemical weapons team, as proposed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, to probe the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country's conflict, the foreign ministry has said.

    Ban has "suggested a supplementary mission allowing the mission to deploy throughout Syrian territory, which is contrary to the demand Syria made to the United Nations," a ministry official said on Monday, cited by state news agency SANA.

    "The Syrian news agency has put out a statement saying that it believes Ban Ki-moon is widening the investigation to look at a number of other allegations of the use of chemical weapons," Al Jazeera's diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from the UN's headquarters in New York, said.

    "They say he is yielding to pressure from countries they say which are involved in sustaining the bloodshed in Syria," he said.

    Rebels and the government of Bashar al-Assad have traded blame for an alleged March 19 attack in the village of Khan al-Assal in northern Syria.

    The UN team has gone to Cyprus and is waiting to carry out the investigation, two weeks after the UN secretary-general received a request from the Syrian government itself to examine the reported use by opposition forces.

    Syria had asked the UN only to investigate what it says was a rebel chemical attack near Aleppo.

    Meanwhile, the opposition has blamed President Assad's forces for that strike and also wants the UN team to probe other alleged chemical attacks by the government.

    Earlier, Ban said the UN team was ready to go within 24 hours and "all we are waiting for is the go-ahead from the Syrian government to determine whether any chemical weapons were used, in any location.

    "I urge the Syrian government to be more flexible, so that this mission can be deployed as fast as possible."

    There have been three alleged chemical weapons attacks - the one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and one in Homs in December.

    Suicide blast

    Meanwhile on Monday, a suicide car bomber struck in the financial heart of Syria's capital, Damascus, killing at least 19 people, damaging the nearby central bank and incinerating cars and trees in the neighborhood.

    The attack was the latest in a recent series of bombings to hit Damascus in the civil war, slowly closing in on President Assad's base of power in the capital.

    The blast was adjacent to Sabaa Bahrat Square near the state-run Syrian Investment Agency, the Syrian Central Bank and the Finance Ministry and dealt a symbolic blow to the nation's ailing economy.

    In the early days of the two-year-old uprising, the grandiose roundabout was home to huge pro-regime demonstrations with a gigantic poster of Assad hung over the central bank headquarters.

    The UN estimates that more than 70,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in March of 2011.

    An internal rights group estimated that nearly 9,000 government troops have also been killed.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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