UN inspectors leave Damascus, enter Lebanon after Syria chemicals probe

UN inspectors leave Damascus, enter Lebanon after Syria chemicals probe

CHTAURA, Lebanon - Agence France-Presse
UN inspectors leave Damascus, enter Lebanon after Syria chemicals probe

U.N. vehicles carrying U.N. inspectors, including High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane, leave their hotel in Damascus Aug. 30. REUTERS photo

A team of United Nations inspectors crossed into Lebanon from Syria on Aug. 31 after completing their probe into a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus, an AFP reporter said.

The inspectors crossed the border in a convoy of U.N. vehicles at 7:40 a.m. local time escorted by Lebanese security forces.

The 13 inspectors, led by Ake Sellstrom, had left their hotel in Damascus shortly before dawn.

The team have been investigating allegations of the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people.

The U.N. experts' departure heightened expectations of a possible international military strike against the regime.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Aug. 30 the United States was weighing "limited, narrow" action against Syria, insisting the world had a duty to act after hundreds of women and children were gassed to death.

Obama emphasised he had made no "final decision" on unleashing military strikes against the al-Assad regime, but gave his clearest indication yet that an attack was imminent.

French President Francois Hollande said a military strike on Syria could come by Wednesday and that Britain's surprise rejection of armed intervention would not affect his government's stand.

"France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime," he said in an interview with Le Monde daily. The French parliament is due to meet Sept. 4 for an emergency Syria session.

Washington said that 1,429 people, including 426 children, had died in a chemical attack launched by Bashar al-Assad's regime last week.

Disarmement envoy to meet U.N. secretary-general

Angela Kane, the U.N. disarmament envoy who had visited Syria with the U.N. experts, left Damascus by car on Aug. 30 to the border with Lebanon.

Kane is expected to brief UN Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon in New York later Aug. 31.

The U.N. experts will "expedite" a report on whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria's civil war, U.N. Spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Ban is ready to brief the U.N. Security Council on the investigation into the suspected chemical weapons attack this weekend if needed, the spokesman told a briefing in New York.

The U.N. chief detailed progress made by the inspection team during a meeting with U.N. ambassadors from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

"The team has completed its collection of samples and evidence," Nesirky told reporters.

The U.N. experts had been tasked with taking samples from the site of the alleged attack at Ghouta, near Damascus, to laboratories in Europe.

"Dr Sellstrom's team is doing its utmost to expedite the process of analysis," Nesirky said while stressing "the need for rigorous attention to maintain the integrity of the process." The spokesman said that the eventual report written by the inspection team would be given to all U.N. member states.