Their immediate task will be to investigate an attack Tuesday near the city of Aleppo in which both the Syrian government and the opposition claimed the other side had used chemical weapons. But Ban hinted that the team’s mandate could be broader, saying that he hoped the mission “would contribute to ensuring the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.”
The Obama administration, which has said that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “red line,” signaled support for a wide-
ranging investigation. Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said officials back an investigation that “pursues any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
The U.N. announcement came amid signs that the Syrian war, which has killed more than 70,000 people, is threatening to spiral further into a regionwide crisis. This week, a top U.N. official said that 3.6 million people have been internally displaced in the conflict and that 1.1 million have registered as refugees in Syria’s four neighboring countries.
The war is also threatening the 39-year-old cease-fire between Syria and Israel, as fighting undermines the capacity of international peacekeepers to monitor the separation line between the two countries. Ban has warned the Security Council that Syrian armed forces have crossed into the U.N.-monitored demilitarized zone in pursuit of rebel groups using the area as a haven.
The breaches represent a “grave violation” of the cease-fire, Ban said in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.
The violence in Syria, meanwhile, has continued unabated. On Thursday, a bombing at a mosque in the capital, Damascus, killed 42 people, including a senior Sunni cleric, according to Syrian media reports and opposition groups. Mohammed Said Ramadan al-Bouti was the imam of the the largest and most important Sunni mosque in the country and was known for his support of President Bashar al-Assad.
The attack that is the immediate focus of the U.N. investigation occurred in Aleppo province and is said to have killed 26 people, including 16 Syrian soldiers. There has been no independent confirmation that chemical weapons were used, nor has there been confirmation that such munitions were used in some other recent cases, as alleged by the opposition.
An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said ongoing analysis of the incident indicates that it probably did not involve the use of chemical weapons. One possibility under discussion is whether a missile struck a nearby chemical-weapons site and released a small amount of a chemical agent.