“The secretary general believes that the incidents reported yesterday need to be investigated without delay,” according to a statement from his office.
It said Ban wants the U.N. mission members “to be granted permission and access to swiftly investigate the incident.” The statement added: “A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the Government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay.”
The statement was issued after France on Thursday raised the possibility of international intervention in Syria if there is solid proof that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against his people.
Harrowing pictures of the bodies of young children laid out for identification were circulated by opposition activists, who claimed that the death toll climbed higher on Thursday as entire families were found dead in their homes. However, they still struggled to provide lists of names to back up earlier assertions that more than 1,000 people perished in the attack.
Experts warned that vital physical evidence could dissipate unless a U.N. investigative team — already in the country to investigate previous claims of poisonous gas use — was given permission to visit the site.
An activist in the Kafr Batna neighborhood who gave his name as Anas Aldmashqi said he had personally helped to document 200 dead there. But he said only 10 names were gathered because there was nobody to identify the bodies.
“Most of the bodies are of people who just ran into the streets,” he said. “They weren’t found with IDs; they were in their sleeping gowns. Whole buildings were killed; and nobody can tell you who they were.”
Although the United States, France, Britain and other nations have specifically requested that the inspection team proceed, “there is a requirement of consent in situations like this,” Deputy U.N. Secretary General Jan Eliasson said, “and also that the security situation will allow them to enter the area. It is a very dramatic situation and the security situation right now does not allow such access.”
The Syrian government on Wednesday strongly denied that there had been an attack. But widely circulated images of children in spasms and vomiting added to the pressure on the United States and the international community to take robust action.
The alleged attack came almost exactly a year after President Obama said the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would be a “red line” for his administration.
“There would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French television network BFM, when asked about action that should be taken if the allegations are proven. He added, however, that “there is no question of sending troops on the ground.”