Russia urges Syria to cooperate with chemical weapons probe

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Activists say hundreds died in the alleged chemical attack near Damascus. Photo: Reuters
Russia has said it had told Syria to cooperate with UN experts investigating reports of a deadly chemical weapons attack that is believed to have killed hundreds, and called on rebels to allow access to the area.

A foreign ministry statement said Friday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed during a phone call that the Syrian opposition claims should undergo an objective investigation. Russia also said rebels opposed to the Syrian government should guarantee safe passage for the U.N. mission.

Syrian opposition has alleged that Assad\’s government on Wednesday fired rockets with chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, Zamalka and Ein Tarma. The attack reportedly left hundreds dead.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would amount to a "crime against humanity" that would result in "serious consequences." He has said the U.N. has formally asked Syria to let U.N. personnel "swiftly investigate" the scene of Wednesday\’s alleged chemical weapons attack. Syria has denied using chemical weapons.
U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN that officials are currently gathering information about the reports. He said a possible chemical attack in Syria is " clearly a big event of grave concern."
Obama also said the "core national interests" of the United States are now involved with Syria\’s civil war, such as making sure weapons of mass destruction are not involved, and the need to protect U.S. allies and bases in the region.
Syrian opposition leaders and activists accuse the Syrian government of using poison gas in an artillery and rocket assault on rebel-held Damascus suburbs. They say hundreds of civilians were killed, and released video of scores of bodies of adults and children lying on the ground without signs of injury. Neither the number of people killed nor the cause of death could be independently confirmed.
Assad\’s government rejected the allegations of chemical weapons being used. It has accused the opposition of using chemical weapons earlier this year near Aleppo. A U.N. team is already on the ground in Syria investigating those claims. 
On Thursday in a statement released through his spokesman, Ban said he expects to receive a "positive response" from the Syrian government to the request to investigate Wednesday\’s incident. The U.N. chief said he also asked Under Secretary General Angela Kane to visit Damascus to follow up on the matter. 
In a briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called on the Syrian government to allow the U.N. inspectors to interview witnesses, collect physical samples and have unfettered access to the areas suspected of being hit by chemical weapons. 
France said the international community must respond with force if the Syrian opposition allegations are true. But, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ruled out the use of ground troops.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also called for international action, saying a "red line" has been crossed in Syria.
Meanwhile, the UN says children now make up half of all refugees fleeing Syria. About three-quarters of those children are under 11.
"The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures," said UN high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres.
Most of the children have arrived in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, the UN says, and increasingly Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe.
But with its appeal for Syria less than 40% funded, the two UN agencies say they are struggling to meet the needs of the refugees.
Syria has been embroiled in a war for more than two years, during which more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced or become refugees in other countries, according to the United Nations.
Source. Agencies

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