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Syria OKs UN probe of purported attacks

FILE- This Aug. 21 2013 file image provided by by Shaam News Network which has been authenticated based its contents

FILE- This Aug. 21, 2013, file image provided by by Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show several bodies being buried during a funeral in a suburb of Damascus, Syria. A senior administration official said Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, that there is “very little doubt” that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in an incident that killed at least a hundred people last week, but added that the president had not yet decided how to respond. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, File)

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Updated: August 25, 2013 10:56AM



DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a team of international experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week outside Damascus, state media and the U.N. said.

A statement on Syrian state television said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane struck the deal during talks in Damascus, and that the two sides are working to finalize the date and time of the visit.

The world body said that a team of U.N. experts already in Syria has been instructed to focus on investigating the purported attack on Wednesday. The mission “is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities’” on Monday, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.

Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in the alleged toxic gas attack on the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital. Images purporting to show the aftermath of the attack are filled with people gasping for breath and dead children unmarked by any wounds.

The eastern Ghouta area where the attack took place is under opposition-control, which makes arranging a trip across the front lines difficult. Rebels and the main Western-back opposition group have said they would guarantee access and the safety of a U.N. team to facilitate an investigation.

Nesirky said the Syrian government “affirmed that it will provide the necessary cooperation, including the observance of the cessation of hostilities at the locations related to the incident.”

He added that U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon “would like to reiterate that all relevant parties equally share the responsibility of cooperating in urgently generating a safe environment for the mission to do its job efficiently and providing all necessary information.”

The deal appears to meet the demands of the world powers, including the U.S., Britain, France and Russia, all of whom called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the U.N. and grant inspectors access to the sites.

Confirming whether chemical weapons were indeed used carries enormous stakes, and could play a large role in determining the future course of a Syrian conflict. It has reinvigorated debate about the possible use of foreign military action in Syria’s civil war.

Last week, France said that if an independent investigation confirms that chemical weapons were indeed employed, then military force could be used in Syria.

The U.N. team arrived in Syria last week to investigate three earlier purported chemical attacks. The mission is led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom.

Meanwhile, Syrian state TV said a car bomb killed the governor of the central province of Hama on Sunday. Anas Abdul Razaak Naem was assassinated in the Jarajima neighborhood of the city of Hama, the provincial capital, it said. No further details were immediately available.

Assassinations of politicians, army officers and journalists who support President Bashar Assad’s regime are commonplace in Syria’s civil war. At least 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s crisis began in March 2011.



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