Ban spoke hours after Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki narrowly escaped a car bomb that targeted his convoy Monday morning as it moved through an upper-class neighborhood of Damascus. State television said he was unharmed. At least nine people were killed and 17 injured in the blast, according to Mayadeen television, a network loyal to Assad.
The bombing in the Mezzeh area of Damascus, close to government ministries and several embassies, underscored the steadily expanding reach of Syria’s rebel forces, even as the government of President Bashar al-Assad has sought to halt a gradual rebel encroachment in the countryside surrounding the capital in recent weeks.
Syria invited the United Nations last month to conduct an investigation into its claims that Syrian rebels attacked Syrian government forces with chemical weapons on March 19 near Aleppo. Syrian officials said 26 people died in the attack, including some government troops.
But Syria balked after Britain and France urged the United Nations to also investigate Syrian opposition claims that the government employed chemical weapons in three Syrian cities: Aleppo, Damascus and Homs.
Last week, the Obama administration weighed in, telling Congress that the U.S. intelligence community believes chemical weapons, notably the nerve agent sarin, may have been used by Syrian government forces “on a small scale.” But the White House said it could not confirm “how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
President Obama said the administration is still looking for conclusive evidence, and he pointed to the U.N. inspection efforts as the possible key. Britain, France and Israel have also said there is evidence that the Syrian government likely used the banned weapons against rebel fighters.
Speaking before a meeting with Sellstrom on the status of the U.N. probe, Ban said, “I take seriously the recent intelligence report of the United States about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.” He urged the Syrian government “to allow the investigation to proceed without delay and without any conditions.”
Ban said that “a credible and comprehensive inquiry requires full access to the sites where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used.” An advance team of U.N. inspectors is positioned in Cyprus to deploy to Syria within 24 to 48 hours, he said.
Sellstrom was in Britain last week to examine evidence that British authorities say indicates the use of a nerve agent at Syrian sites, and Ban said last week that the United Nations has already been in contact with the United States to discuss its claims.