The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has strenuously denied launching a chemical attack. But opposition forces who have waged a bloody civil conflict against the government for 2 1
2 years say they believe Syrian forces used fatal poison gas on civilians, including women and children.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent his top disarmament official to Damascus on Thursday to secure permission for international weapons investigators already in Syria to examine the alleged site and interview witnesses.
“I can think of no good reason why any party, either government or opposition forces, would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter,” Ban told a diplomatic forum in Seoul on Friday, Reuters news agency reported.
But activists inside Syria said they hold out little hope that the U.N. team — which arrived in Syria after months of negotiations to investigate earlier, smaller attacks — will be allowed into the eastern suburbs of Damascus where the more recent alleged attack took place. As a result, activists said, they are working to smuggle skin, hair and blood samples to investigators in an effort to prove their claims.
An activist with the opposition Damascus Media Office who uses the pseudonym Alexia Jade said human blood, hair and skin samples have been collected from victims of the alleged attack, in addition to samples from dead animals.
She described the task of getting the samples to the U.N. team as a “very complicated mission,” saying the investigators were surrounded by government minders.
Domestic organizations such as the Syrian Red Crescent also face difficulties in gaining access to the site in the area known as Eastern Ghouta.
“Access in Syria it is extremely difficult because of fighting, because of security concerns and also because of groups with checkpoints, on both sides,” said Samar El Kadi, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lebanon. “In order to access Eastern Ghouta, it’s not a matter of permission; it’s a matter of coordination between the different groups on the ground. It takes time.”
On Wednesday, an effort by members of the U.N. Security Council to demand an investigation was stymied, in part, by Russian resistance. But Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry spoke by phone Thursday and agreed that it is a matter of “general interest” to conduct an impartial investigation into the allegations.