31 August 2013, 12:10

UN inspectors leave Syria but findings on chemical weapons will take days

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A team of UN inspectors crossed into Lebanon from Syria on Saturday after completing their probe into a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus. The results of the inspection should not be expected earlier than the end of next week.

The inspectors crossed the border in a convoy of UN vehicles at 7:40 am (0440 GMT) escorted by Lebanese security forces.

The 13 inspectors, led by Ake Sellstrom, had left their hotel in Damascus shortly before dawn.

The team have been investigating allegations of the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people.

The UN experts' departure heightened expectations of a possible international military strike against the regime.

"I can confirm that the UN team has left Damascus," Khaled al Masri said. He did not reveal their destination but witnesses said the convoy headed toward the Lebanese border.

The UN team was tasked with determining whether chemical weapons had been used in Khan al-Asaal, in the northern province of Aleppo, and two other sites.

Their departure increased expectations of a possible US military strike against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

UN team to determine if chemical weapons were used, can't say who is behind attack - UN spokesman

UN experts have finished their work in Syria and will "expedite" a report on whether chemical weapons have been used in the country's conflict. It may be two weeks before for final results are ready of an analysis of samples experts collected at the site of a chemical weapons attack last week in Syria are ready, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the five permanent Security Council members. VoR spoke with the United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq about inspection results.

Is it critical for the inspection results that the UN team leaves one day earlier than it was planned?

Well, the team is actually leaving on Saturday, the experts of the team remain in Syria right now and they will leave on Saturday. From there they are going to go to the Hague and start processing the material that they have gathered. So, that will go to a few other countries in Europe for laboratory testing. So, this is the schedule that they have been trying to keep, they intended to have a two week schedule of work inside the country and that’s what they have done. Of course, the initial sites that they were going to see, they would still need to take a further look at, so they do intend to return to Syria in due course and investigate those sites, Khan al-Assal and two other sites. But right now for this past week and a half they have been focusing on the site of 21st of August attack and so they are trying to get that information to the laboratory.

It’s very interesting that John Kerry now has just given his speech and he spoke of the inspection results and he said two very interesting things. First of all, he said that the access for the specialists of the UN team was quite limited and he leaded to the fact that they were not given full access. He also said that the mandate of the UN team was not to discover who actually was responsible for the chemical attack but to discover whether or not it was indeed perpetrated. Is that correct?

What I can say about that is that the team did have access to the sites related to Ghouta attack. They have been satisfied with the work they have been able to do in recent days. Of course, there are other sites that they have not had a full look at yet, precisely because they have had a priority of looking at Ghouta attack. And, as for the problems with getting access, it’s true that for many months there had been problems getting the sort of arrangements wanted in terms of access to Syria but at this stage, for the last two weeks they have been on the ground, they have been able to go back to work and they are very satisfied they have been able to get information that will be useful.

Will you be able to determine as a result of inspection who was responsible for the attack or will just be able to determine that there was indeed an attack, what kind of chemical substance was used?

The mandate of the chemical weapon’s investigation team is to determine whether or not chemical weapons have been used, it’s not to determine attribution, in other words, who is behind the attack. At the same time what they intend to do is put together an evidence based narrative that would include all the relevant facts that it’s found over the course of its work.

So, is it possible that we will be able to determine who in fact was responsible for these attacks?

It’s possible that the information that they have been able to obtain will be useful in determining that.

Because it’s seems that the information that will be obtained by the inspection a lot of countries are waiting for that and that could determine whether or not there will be military action in Syria.

Well, for the investigators the clear task ahead of them is to do a professional job analyzing what the data is. Once that is done then that can go in the form of the report to the Secretary General who intends to share it with the Members States of the United Nations. It can then be for the Member States themselves to valuate how useful that information is. But certainly we believe their work has been a very high quality and that they can help get us to the bottom of what happened on the 21st of August.

That’s very good because I believe that both Kerry and Cameron spoke with the fact that they already have evidence and there was a point in time when there wasn’t a willingness to await the results. I think it is very important that it’s clear that the team was able to get full access and complete what their mandate actually set out to do. And you are saying that is the case?

Yes, and as for information from any other countries may have, the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has consistently encouraged Member States to provide any information that they have.

Can you tell us a little bit of the actual work that was done on the ground, what kinds of samples were collected? And how would those samples help to determine the facts behind the attack, the condition of the attack?

There are two broad group samples: the environmental samples and biomedical samples. And those will now need to be analyzed.

How long do you think it will take after leaving Syria, leaving the ground, how long will it take to fully analyze the results of all the samples that have been collected?

There are scientific constraints concerning how long it takes to test the samples but the team is making an effort to get the results as quickly as possible.

Any idea though approximately, how long will it be before we know? The whole world can’t wait to find out what happened as the result of your inspection?

I wouldn’t really speculate on how long it takes. There are certain operational guides lines that they have to follow that are fairly strict in terms of how evidence is to be treated and so there is certain time constraints that are brought on by the particular scientific tests that need to be done. At the same time, they will try and do it as fast as they can do it.

Have you received any preliminary reports at this point from the inspectors about the samples that were collected?

No, there won’t be a preliminary report.

UN analysis of Syria samples could take up to 2 weeks - envoy

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the five permanent Security Council members that it may be two weeks before for final results are ready of an analysis of samples experts collected at the site of a chemical weapons attack last week in Syria are ready, diplomats said on Friday.

Ban said this to delegates from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States during a meeting in New York, the diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

UN chemical experts work in Syria finished - spokesman

UN experts have finished their work in Syria and will "expedite" a report on whether chemical weapons have been used in the country's conflict, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Friday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is ready to brief the UN Security Council on the investigation into a suspected chemical weapons attack this weekend if needed, the spokesman told a briefing.

While the United States and its allies are considering a military strike on Syria in response to the August 21 attack, no country has yet requested a Security Council meeting.

Ban explained progress made by the inspection team in a meeting with UN ambassadors from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States."The team has completed its collection of samples and evidence," Nesirky told reporters.

"They are now packing up, they will be leaving Damascus and leaving Syria tomorrow."

UN disarmament envoy, Angela Kane, left Damascus on Friday and will brief Ban in New York on Saturday, the spokesman added.

Interpreters and other backup staff with the UN team also left on Friday, he said.

The 13 experts led by Ake Sellstrom are to take samples taken from the site of the alleged attack at Ghouta, near Damascus, to laboratories in Europe.

"Dr Sellstrom's team is doing its utmost to expedite the process of analysis," Nesirky said while stressing "the need for rigorous attention to maintain the integrity of the process".

The spokesman added that the eventual report by the inspection team would be given to all UN member states.

Ban Ki-moon to discuss Syria with UN SC permanent members

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will meet on Friday with five permanent members of the UN Security Council over Syria, a UN Secretary General's official representative said in a statement.

Ban Ki-moon returned to New York on late August 29.

He intends to discuss the development of the situation in Syria with UN member-states, first by meeting with the permanent members of the UN Security Council at noon [8 p.m. Moscow time] on Friday, the statement said.

The UN Secretary General has returned to New York from Vienna.

Ban Ki-moon said in Vienna on August 29 that he cut his visit short due to the necessity of hearing the report of UN inspectors, who investigated reports of the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta on August 21.

The UN experts completed their work in Syria on Friday and will leave the country on August 31, Ban Ki-moon said in Vienna.

Five permanent members of the UN Security Council discussed the situation in Syria at a meeting called at the initiative of Russia.

No official statements were made following the meeting but western media reported that it went without any progress.

The UK has presented the UN Security Council permanent members with a resolution draft proposing that it take all necessary measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter [stipulating the use of force] to protect civilians from chemical weapons.

It is necessary to wait for the conclusions of UN inspectors working in Syria prior to discussing the resolution draft, Russia said.

Voice of Russia, TASS, AFP, Guardian, Interfax, Reuters, dpa

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