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Syria to allow UN team to probe alleged chemical weapons attack

The Syrian government has agreed to allow a UN team of experts to access the area outside Damascus where alleged chemical attacks killed more than 350 people. The probe is set to begin on Monday.

Syria's foreign ministry said on Sunday that President Bashar al-Assad's regime has approved a team of UN chemical weapons inspectors, already in the country, to carry out an immediate probe into reports of chemical attacks last week.

"An agreement was concluded today (Sunday) in Damascus between the Syrian government and the United Nations during the visit of the UN high representative for disarmament, Angela Kane, to allow the UN team led by Professor Aake Sellstroem to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Damascus province," a ministry statement said.

The UN released a statement saying the mission would start Monday, August 26.

The alleged incident took place three days after a UN chemical weapons team arrived in Syria to investigate other smaller allegations of poison gas use.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met Kane - who was in Damascus to negotiate access to the sites.

Moualem said, "Syria is ready to cooperate with the inspection team to prove that the allegations by terrorist groups (rebels) of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian troops in the Eastern Ghouta region are lies.”

Concern from world leaders

The United States, Britain, France and Russia had all called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN to facilitate the investigation.

France has said that if an investigation confirms that chemical weapons were used, then military force could be used in Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was "no doubt" the Assad regime was behind the attack.

"The indications are totally convergent on the scale of the massacre and the overwhelming responsibility of the regime... As far as we are concerned, there is no doubt concerning the substance of the facts and their origin," Fabius told reporters in Jerusalem.

US President Barack Obama received a detailed review of the range of options for how the US and its international partners could respond if the chemical attacks are verified, the White House said on Saturday.

However, Russia, a longtime Syria ally, said that assigning blame too soon over the alleged attacks would be a "tragic mistake."

"We strongly urge those...trying to impose their opinion on UN experts ahead of the results of an investigation... to exercise discretion and not make tragic mistakes," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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