U.N. chemical inspection team leaves Syria; region braces for attack
BEIRUT — A United Nations chemical inspection team left Syria on Saturday as U.S. officials were said to be preparing a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government for its alleged use of poison gas.
Various news agencies reported that a convoy carrying the U.N. contingent had left its hotel in Damascus early Saturday and later crossed the border into neighboring Lebanon.
Reports have suggested that the White House preferred to wait until the U.N. contingent had departed Syria before launching any assault.
There was no official word early Saturday on any U.S. military action in Syria.
The White House has accused the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad of unleashing chemical weapons in an attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds. The government had denied any role in the incident and blamed it on opposition forces seeking to discredit the government and spur international intervention.
U.S. officials were reported to be considering launching a missile barrage against Syrian targets from warships in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Syrian government says it is ready to confront any direct U.S. strike.
The U.S. has avoided direct involvement in the Syrian conflict, though it has aided anti-government rebels and said Assad should relinquish power.
The 20-member U.N. team spent two weeks in Syria. The inspectors visited a number of sites in the Damascus suburbs hit in the suspected chemical attacks on Aug. 21. The team is carrying various samples back to Europe for laboratory analysis to determine if chemical agents were indeed employed.
A civil conflict has raged in Syria for more than two years, costing tens of thousands of lives and leaving vast swaths of the nation in ruins.
U.S.-backed rebels are fighting to oust the government of Assad, who labels the rebels “terrorists” linked to Al Qaeda and funded by the U.S. and its allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Providing aid to Assad are his allies Russia and Iran.
The conflict has had a destabilizing effect on the region and sent more than 2 million refugees into exile, mostly to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Syria-related violence has often crossed the nation’s borders into Lebanon and other neighboring countries.
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