Western officials are calling for Ban to expand the investigation to include allegations of chemical-weapons use dating to December.
“We wish to bring to your attention recent allegations from various sources that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, including in two locations of Khan Asal in Aleppo, and Ataybah in the vicinity of Damascus, resulting in civilian deaths and serious injuries,” France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, and Britain’s deputy U.N. envoy, Philip Parham, wrote in a letter to Ban. “We also wish to bring to your attention allegations of use of chemical weapons in Homs on 23 December 2012.”
Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, denounced the European initiative as a stalling tactic and insisted that Ban limit the immediate investigation to the single case in Aleppo.
“There is just one allegation of the use of chemical weapons,” Churkin said. “This is really a way to delay the need for immediate, urgent investigation of allegations pertaining to March 19 by raising all sorts of issues.”
At the news conference, Ban said he has the authority to act without the approval of the Security Council. He said the mission he will authorize “is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government. I am, of course, aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons.”
Ban’s warning about the war’s impact in the Golan Heights underlined that the conflict has become perhaps the most serious threat in decades to the strained, but stable, stalemate between Syria and Israel. In recent months, the secretary general said, members of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which has more than 1,000 peacekeepers under its command, have been shot at, abducted, harassed during patrols and robbed — both by Syrian armed forces and the opposition.
The turmoil has forced some U.N. monitors to halt patrols and shutter observation posts. Some nations, including Croatia and Japan, have decided to pull their troops out of the Golan Heights, leaving those remaining without the means to fulfill their mission.
“The situation is deteriorating,” Ban warned in his letter, which is expected to be discussed by the Security Council next week. “The continued military activities in the area of separation have the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic, and jeopardize the cease-fire between the two countries and the stability of the region.”
Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Ramadan in Beirut contributed to this report.