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U.N. to investigate alleged chemical weapons use in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations will investigate the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, which would amount to a crime against humanity, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

The investigation could be broader than the Syrian government's request for an independent probe of a purported chemical weapons attack Tuesday. Ban said he was aware of allegations of other, similar attacks and hoped the inquiry would ultimately help secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

The secretary-general said investigators would look into Syria's allegation that rebels carried out a chemical weapons attack on Khan al-Assal village in northern Aleppo province. The rebels blamed regime forces for the attack.

A senior U.S. official, meanwhile, said Thursday that the United States now has strong indications that no chemical weapons were used in the attack, the Associated Press reported.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said France and Britain sent a letter to Ban on Thursday asking for an investigation of three alleged chemical weapons attacks. He said Ban will review this suggestion as the U.N. develops the mandate for the investigation.

"My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity," the secretary-general said. "The international community needs full assurance that chemical weapons stockpiles are verifiably safeguarded."

The investigation will start "as soon as practically possible," Ban said, but "will not happen overnight."

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States "supports an investigation that pursues any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria."

"President Obama has been clear that the use or transfer of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable," she said. "If Bashar Al-Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligation to secure them, then there will be consequences. Those responsible will be held accountable."

Senior cleric killed

A suicide bomb ripped through a mosque in Damascus on Thursday, killing Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti, an outspoken supporter of President Bashar Assad. The assassination, one of the most stunning of Syria's 2-year-old civil war, removes one of the few pillars of support for Assad left among the majority Sunni sect that has risen up against him. At least 41 others were killed.

U.N. to investigate alleged chemical weapons use in Syria 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 10:55pm]
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