A team of UN weapons investigators has travelled to the site of an alleged chemical attack near Damascus. Meanwhile, foreign leaders have said they won't rule out options in Syria, including foregoing UN approval.
A convoy of SUVs carrying the UN team came under sniper fire on Monday as it headed to the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus. The attack reportedly forced the team to temporarily suspend its investigation while it waited to replace the damaged vehicle.
The unit was expected to probe an area outside of the capital, known as Eastern Ghouta, to verify the claims made by eye witnesses and Syrian opposition groups last week.
According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 1,300 people died in the attack on Wednesday, while the non-profit group Doctors Without Borders said 355 people had died of "neurotoxic" symptoms.
The allegations had coincided with the UN team's long-awaited visit to Syria and prompted international leaders to demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad authorize investigators to access the site.
Under its original mandate, they had been scheduled to analyze evidence at only three sites around the country in order to determine whether chemical agents had been deployed since earlier this year. However, they said they would not determine the culprit.
President Assad granted permission to include the Damascus site over the weekend, but has continued to deny suspicions as "not logical" and "politically motivated."
"This is nonsense," Russia's Izvestia daily quoted Assad as saying in an article published on Monday. "How can the government use chemical weapons, or any other weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its troops are situated?"
The deployment of chemical weapons in Syria has dominated discussions among international leaders who seek an end to the nearly two-and-a-half year civil war, which has claimed over 100,000 lives and driven over one million into neighboring countries.
The UN team received a mandate to travel to Syria in April, but was forced to wait until this month to depart due to disagreements over the scope of the investigation.
Meanwhile, mortar shells hit central Damascus on Monday morning, injuring three, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA said. The attack - allegedly carried out by the Syrian opposition - reportedly occurred in the district near the UN team's hotel.
Growing impatience to issue response
Foreign ministers said they were considering possible action against the Assad regime and would act alone if the United Nations refused to condone an international intervention, long before the investigative team had reached Eastern Ghouta on Monday.
Both the United Kingdom and France said they were considering all options, but neither indicated what steps they were discussing, going as far as to act without the UN Security Council's approval.
"Is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council? I would argue yes it is - otherwise of course it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, to such crimes," United Kingdom Foreign Minister William Hague told BBC Radio 4 on Monday.
"We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity," Hague added.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reiterated that no decision had been made on a military intervention, but did say that the world must give a "proportionate" response to war crimes.
"The only option that I can't imagine would be doing nothing," Fabius told Europe 1 radio.
Berlin also expressed its interest in stopping the alleged war crimes in Syria, but emphasized the need for a political solution.
"Consequences would be necessary," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told a conference of German ambassadors in Berlin, adding that "level-headedness" was of the utmost importance.
Turkey said it would join an international coalition if need be, but would not reach any decision before the UN team had released the results of Monday's investigation.
kms/ (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)