Despite sniper fire,UN team reaches Syria attack site

Snipers opened fire Monday on a convoy of United Nations.

Written by Alan Cowell | London | Published:August 27, 2013 2:11 am

Snipers opened fire Monday on a convoy of United Nations inspectors heading towards the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria,disabling the lead vehicle with multiple shots to the tyres and windshield,the United Nations said,but the inspectors still managed to visit two hospitals,interview witnesses and doctors and collect patient samples for the first time since the attack last week that claimed hundreds of lives.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a statement said he had instructed his top disarmament official,Angela Kane,who was visiting Damascus,to register a “strong complaint to the Syrian government and authorities of opposition forces” to ensure safety of the inspectors after the assault. There was no indication that any member of the inspection team had been hurt.

Ban’s spokesman,Farhan Haq,told reporters that the assailants,who had not been identified,fired on the first vehicle in the convoy,which was “hit in its tyres and its front window,ultimately it was not able to travel further”.

Haq said the inspectors,who numbered about a dozen,resumed their trip to a suspected attack site in a Damascus suburb after the vehicle was replaced,visiting two hospitals and interviewing witnesses,survivors and doctors. “They took a number of relevant samples,they feel very satisfied with the results of their work,” Haq said. A second visit was planned for Tuesday.

Anti-government activists posted videos online of UN inspectors in blue helmets arriving in the Moadamiya area,southwest of the capital,where they were shown entering a clinic and interviewing patients.

Moadamiya is a rebel-held suburb where anti-government activists reported the smaller of two suspected chemical attacks last Wednesday. Videos posted then showed patients in a rebel field hospital apparently having trouble breathing.

The visit by the UN inspectors to the Damascus suburb,in a half-dozen vehicles escorted by Syrian security forces,came shortly after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria denied that his forces had used poison gas against his own citizens,and as divisions between outside powers over how to handle the crisis showed no signs of easing.

In an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia,published Monday,Assad said accusations that his forces had used chemical weapons were illogical and an “outrage against common sense”. He warned the US that military intervention in Syria would bring “failure just like in all the previous wars they waged,starting with Vietnam and up to the present day”.

“If someone dreams about turning Syria into a puppet of the West,it simply will not happen,” Assad told Izvestia.

If proven,attack will be worst in 25 years

AUG 21: Syria’s opposition accuses government forces of gassing hundreds of people by firing rockets that released deadly fumes over rebel-held Damascus suburbs,killing men,women and children as they slept.

AUG 22: UN chief and Western powers urge Syria to give UN experts immediate access to place where gas attack occurred. A US official says the attack appears to be the work of the Assad government,but Washington says will await confirmation of the details.

AUG 23: The US repositions naval forces in the Mediterranean to give President Obama the option for an armed strike on Syria. Syrian opposition coalition says samples from victims of the gas attack have been smuggled out of Syria for testing by UN experts.

AUG 24: In the most authoritative account yet,medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says three hospitals near Damascus reported 355 deaths in the space of three hours,out of about 3,600 people admitted with nerve gas-type symptoms after the reported attacks.

AUG 25: Assad agrees to let UN inspect the suspected gas attack site,with a local ceasefire in place to protect inspectors. Reuters

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