U.N. chemical weapons inspection team wraps up work in Syria
BEIRUT—The United Nations chemical weapons inspection team in Syria was reported to have wrapped up its field work Friday and was preparing to leave the war-torn country on Saturday.
U.N. officials have generally described the 20-member contingent’s work as a success. The inspectors visited several sites of the suspected Aug. 21 poison gas attack and gathered samples, apparently of possibly contaminated soil, tissue and other evidence, and also interviewed victims, witnesses, doctors and others in and around Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The U.N. team spent four working days on the ground in the Damascus area, crossing rebel lines to collect evidence in areas that are, in effect, war zones. The team fell prey to one sniper attack but there were no casualties, officials said.
The Syrian government and the opposition expressed public support for the U.N. mission. Each side blames the other for the incident, which reportedly killed hundreds of civilians, sparking international outrage. Some experts say images uploaded on the Internet of the victims suggest a nerve agent was unleashed, though the photographic record was not conclusive.
The collected samples are expected to be analyzed at laboratories in Europe for traces of chemical agents. Whether the process will take days or weeks is unclear. The team’s mandate is limited to determining whether chemical agents were released, not apportioning blame for the use of toxic substances. Experts, however, have said the findings could provide important clues about who was responsible for the incident.
Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged U.S. and other Western officials to give the U.N. an opportunity to do its work before resorting to a military strike on Syria.
“Give peace a chance,” Ban said Wednesday in a speech in the Hague. “Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking.”
Amid reports of an impending U.S. retaliatory missile assault on Syrian government targets, some have suggested that Washington would prefer to wait until the U.N. contingent departs before mounting any attack. The U.N. says the team plans to leave Syria on Saturday.
[For the Record, 3:20 p.m. PDT Aug. 30: An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as saying, “Stop fighting and stop talking.” The correct quote is “Stop fighting and start talking.”]
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