- POSTED: 25 Sep 2013 23:49
This graph is an experimental feature that tracks number of views over time.
UN inspectors returned to Syria on Wednesday to pursue a probe into poison gas attacks as Russia and the West wrangled over how to eliminate the country's banned chemical weapons.
DAMASCUS: UN inspectors returned to Syria on Wednesday to pursue a probe into poison gas attacks as Russia and the West wrangled over how to eliminate the country's banned chemical weapons.
The group, led by chief expert Ake Sellstrom, flew to Beirut in Lebanon and travelled by overland convoy via the Masnaa border post to Damascus.
US President Barack Obama demanded on Tuesday tough Security Council action against Syria as the conflict there dominated debate at the annual UN General Assembly.
Further complicating the situation for the international community, 13 key Syrian Islamist groups said they did not recognise any foreign-based opposition group, including the main Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition.
The groups include members of the main rebel Free Syrian Army and more radical Islamists, such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.
Sellstrom's inspectors are expected to examine the alleged use of chemical weapons some 14 times in the 30-month conflict estimated to have killed more than 110,000 people.
After a preliminary visit last month, his team concluded in a report presented on September 16 that banned chemical weapons had been widely used in fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebel forces.
There was clear evidence that sarin gas was used in an attack in the eastern suburbs of the capital on August 21, the report said.
Sellstrom pointed out that the report was only an interim document, and that other allegations needed to be examined.
"There have been other accusations presented to the UN secretary general, dating back to March, against both sides" in the war, he told AFP earlier this month.
There were "13, 14 accusations" that "have to be investigated".
Sellstrom said the team hoped to be able to present a final report addressing all of the accusations "possibly by the end of October".
Last month's attack, which the Syrian opposition and some parts of the international community blame on the regime, prompted Washington to threaten military action against Damascus.
Destruction of chemical arsenal
Assad's government denies using chemical weapons against its own people, and has agreed to a US-Russian plan that will see it deliver its chemical arsenal for destruction.
The deal headed off US military action, but Damascus ally Russia is still wrangling with Britain, France and the United States over the wording of a UN Security Council resolution enshrining the accord.
Obama told world leaders Washington was ready to "use all elements of our power, including military force" to defend "core interests" such as ensuring oil supplies and eradicating weapons of mass destruction.
And he insisted international credibility was at stake after the attack that US intelligence says was launched by the Damascus regime and killed more than 1,400 people, many of them children.
However, Russia is at loggerheads with US, French and British envoys over the draft resolution's exact wording.
The US side wants a resolution that includes reference to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which sets out various measures if the agreement is violated.
In particular, Article 42 threatens the use of military force, but that is not forming the basis of the draft resolution.
Obama said the United States would provide another US$340 million (252 million euros) in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, which has produced some two million refugees.
But the US and its Arab allies are also providing equipment to the Syrian rebels -- just as Moscow remains Damascus's main arms supplier.
French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that another key Damascus ally, Tehran, could join a proposed Syria peace conference provided it helped the transition from Assad's regime.
But in Paris on Wednesday, Free Syrian Army commander Methkal Albatich said more than 100 senior rebel officers had signed a petition demanding a "boycott of any conference or discussion which involves Iran in one way or the other".
The FSA's authority has been significantly weakened, however, by the move by Islamist groups to break with the Western-backed National Coalition.
The defection of the 13 groups, which include some of the most powerful on the ground, poses a key challenge for the opposition's international supporters, analysts say.
It raises questions about how much influence the West and other rebel backers will now have, they say.
"It's extremely damaging," Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre told AFP.
The groups "represent a very significant portion of the armed opposition and the groups that have had the most strategically valuable impact".