U.N. inspectors returned to Syria on Wednesday to pursue a probe into alleged poison gas attacks, as Russia and the West wrangled over how to eliminate President Bashar al-Assad\’s banned chemical weapons.
The team led by Ake Sellstrom flew into neighboring Lebanon on Wednesday and traveled by car to Damascus.
They first went to Syria last month to investigate three attacks, including one in March outside of Aleppo that the Syrian government and rebel fighters blamed on each other.
The team shifted their focus on the two-week mission to a fresh attack outside Damascus, where they concluded chemical weapons had been used. The team\’s mandate does not include assigning blame for any chemical attacks.
Also Wednesday, eleven Islamist rebel groups in Syria have announced they do not recognise the authority of the main opposition alliance, the National Coalition.
A joint statement says: "All groups formed abroad without having returned to the country do not represent us."
They also call for the opposition to unite under an "Islamic framework".
Islamist rebel forces have become increasing prominent in the conflict in Syria, and they are believed to command tens of thousands of fighters.
The signatories include members of the Free Syrian Army as well as more radical Islamists – among them the powerful al-Nusra Front, which has links to al-Qaeda.
It comes amid fighting on the ground between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an offshoot of al-Qaeda, and more moderate rebel forces, especially in areas along Syria\’s northern and eastern borders.
In a video statement published online on Tuesday, 11 of the most powerful Islamist groups declared that they rejected the idea that opposition leadership could come from any organisation based outside Syria that was not working closely with those on the inside.
Meanwhile, diplomats are continuing to work on a draft resolution to enforce an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.
The United States says more than 1,400 people were killed in the attack, which the U.S. says was carried out by the Syrian military. The Assad government blames rebels for carrying out the attack.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, but failed to agree on the key points of the document.
U.S. officials say points of contention remain as the two sides seek a deal on the language of the resolution. The U.S. and Russian ambassadors to the U.N. are tasked with working out the final language.
Russia opposes a resolution that mentions Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which includes military and non-military action to enforce decisions.
Russia has long opposed the idea of military intervention, and has vetoed three attempts to sanction Syria at the U.N. Security Council.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday the resolution could mention the Chapter VII article that permits force or sanctions, only if the U.S.-Russia chemical weapons accord is violated by either side in the Syrian conflict.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and the UN refugee agency says about one third of Syria\’s pre-war population of 20.8 million have fled their homes, either to other countries or safer areas within Syria.