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German and Turkish foreign ministers react to Syria chemical attack reports

The Turkish and German foreign ministers have demanded that Syria allow UN inspectors to investigate chemical weapons claims. The UN Security Council announced it would seek "clarity" and a full investigation.

At a meeting in Berlin Thursday with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle (pictured right), Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (left) said he told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that "the UN must not behave hesitantly anymore: sanctions must now be imposed."

"We call on the international community in this situation where the red line was crossed long ago to intervene as soon as possible," Davutoglu said. "If we don't manage to pass sanctions, we will lose the power to create a deterrent," he added, speaking through an interpreter. "If we don't act decisively, even worse massacres will follow."

Westerwelle called for UN weapons inspectors "to be granted immediate access to investigate the allegations," and said the charges were "so serious, so monstrous, that it is necessary to enable a real examination before talking or speculating about consequences."

'Clarity'

Syria's main opposition group claims that on Wednesday forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus. Opposition activists have claimed death tolls between 100 to 1,300 people. The number of dead has not been independently verified.

Assad's regime has denied the allegations.

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On Wednesday, diplomats rushed the matter to the UN Security Council, with Mario Cristina Perceval, the envoy for Argentina, which currently holds the body's rotating presidency, saying "there must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed carefully," adding that the UN would try to acquire more information on the allegations.

The Council did not adopt a declaration, however, because of opposition from Russia and China, which have blocked condemnation of Assad's regime. Westerwelle said he "regretted" the countries' position, saying it met with "incomprehension" from the international community.

Possible retaliation

On BFM TV, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for immediate access for inspectors and said the Security Council's reaction was "quite ambiguous." He added that if proof were to emerge that Assad's regime used chemical weapons, it would merit "a reaction by the international community .... a reaction of force."

"If the Syrians refuse, it means they've been caught red-handed," Fabius said. The foreign minister ruled out ground troops, but added that "there are ways of retaliating" and called for immediate access for weapons inspectors.

A 20-member UN team arrived in Damascus Sunday to investigate sites where similar attacks had allegedly occurred in the past, including the village of Khan al-Assal just west of the embattled northern city of Aleppo and two other locations being kept secret for security reasons.

The unrest in Syria began as a series of peaceful protests in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war after a harsh crackdown by the government. More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict so far, according to UN figures.

mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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