U.N. presses Syria to allow gas attack inspection

Thu Aug 22, 2013 6:53pm EDT
 
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By Erika Solomon and John Irish

BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) - The United Nations demanded Syria give its chemical weapons experts immediate access on Thursday to rebel-held Damascus suburbs where poison gas appears to have killed hundreds just a few miles from the U.N. team's hotel.

There was no sign, however, that scientists would soon be taking samples at the scene of horrors that have drawn comparison with the gassing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in 1988.

The administration of President Barack Obama said it was "appalled" by the death reports.

A U.S. official familiar with initial intelligence assessments said the attack appeared to be the work of the Assad government. It was "the regime acting as a regime," the official said. But the Obama administration made clear that any response would await confirmation of a chemical attack and its origin.

Assad's opponents gave death tolls from 500 to well over 1,000 and said more bodies were being found in the wake of Wednesday's mysterious pre-dawn killer fumes, which the Syrian government insists were not its doing.

Images, including some by freelance photographers supplied to Reuters, showed scores of bodies laid out on floors with no visible signs of injury. Some had foam at the nose and mouth.

Talk, notably from France and Britain, of a forceful foreign response remains unlikely to be translated into rapid, concerted action given division between the West and Russia at Wednesday's U.N. Security Council meeting, and caution from Washington on Thursday.

Moscow has said rebels may have released gas to discredit Assad and urged him to agree to a U.N. inspection. On Wednesday, Russian objections to Western pressure on Syria saw the Security Council merely call in vague terms for "clarity" - a position increasingly frustrated Syrian rebels described as "shameful".   Continued...

 
Children, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathe through oxygen masks in the Damascus suburb of Saqba, August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh