27 September 2013
Last updated at 17:04
UN inspectors are investigating seven alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria – three of which happened after the 21 August Damascus incident that led to threats of US military action.
Little is known about the latest three alleged attacks, which the Syrian government asked the UN to investigate.
The 21 August attack left hundreds dead; the resulting outcry led Syria to offer up its chemical weapons arsenal.
Inspectors are due in Syria next week – the UN will vote on the visit later.
In Syria itself the violence goes on. Activists said a car bomb killed at least 20 people near a mosque in Rankus, a town north of Damascus, just after Friday prayers.
In a statement, the UN said its current inspection team in Syria is investigating seven allegations of chemical weapons use this year.
The team, led by Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria for its second visit on 25 September and hopes to finish its work by Monday 30 September, the statement said.
It is working on a “comprehensive report” into the allegations that it hopes to have finished by late October.
The UN listed the alleged attacks, which all took place this year, as Khan al-Assal on 19 March; Sheikh Maqsoud on 13 April; Saraqeb on 29 April; Ghouta on 21 August; Bahhariya on 22 August; Jobar on 24 August and Ashrafieh Sahnaya on 25 August.
Syria has pushed for the investigation of the three post-21 August incidents.
Its envoy to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, accused “militants” of using chemical gas against the army in Bahhariya, Jobar and Ashrafieh Sahnaya.
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The UN team investigating the seven alleged chemical attacks is entirely separate from the more comprehensive effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons agreed at the UN Security Council in New York.
This is a renewal of work by the team that was already in Syria last month that was diverted for the urgent investigation of the attacks in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August.
It has returned to investigate alleged attacks at seven separate incidents. Strikingly three of them are alleged to have taken place after the 21 August. These incidents, according to the UN “warrant further investigation”.
The investigation of these three allegations comes at the request of Syria’s ambassador to the UN who claims these were the work of rebel forces.
Russia has frequently charged that elements of the Syrian opposition have used chemical weapons – though so far no evidence has been found.
The UN itself investigated the 21 August attacks and its evidence points strongly to the use of Sarin-filled rockets by the Syrian regime.
It was the Ghouta incident of 21 August that sparked international outrage and the threat of military action from the US and its allies.
Since then, Russia – an ally of Syria – has secured an agreement from Damascus to give up its chemical weapons stockpile.
Earlier this month, the US and Russia asked the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to decide how to ensure the “complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment” in Syria by the first half of 2014.
The OPCW has come up with a draft agreement for the inspections which will be voted on by the organisation’s 41-nation executive council on Friday evening in The Hague.
The text will then be incorporated into a UN Security Council resolution – which has been agreed by both the US and Russia – that will be voted on in New York some hours afterwards.
The OPCW’s text calls for inspections of Syria’s chemical arsenal to begin by Tuesday. An advance team will probably arrive on Monday.
It sets out a deadline that will see the destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment by 1 November 2013 and the complete destruction of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of next year.
Syria is instructed to provide “immediate and unfettered” access to OPCW’s inspectors. If it does not, a meeting of the executive council will be called within 24 hours.
The text also authorises the OPCW to inspect “any other site identified by a State Party as having been involved in the Syrian chemical weapons programme, unless deemed unwarranted by the director general”.
The OPCW usually only inspects sites that have been declared by states which have acceded to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
The draft agreement calls for urgent funding to hire inspectors and technical experts to destroy an estimated 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and precursor chemicals, including the blister agent sulphur mustard and the nerve agents sarin and VX.