The UN Security Council has announced that it will seek "clarity" and a full investigation into the latest allegations of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian military, a claim the government denies.
The current president of the Security Council said late on Wednesday that the UN would try to acquire more information on allegations of a chemical weapons attack near the Syrian capital, Damascus.
"There must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed carefully," Argentina's envoy, Mario Cristina Perceval, said after a two-hour closed-door meeting convened at short notice in New York. Argentina currently holds the Security Council's presidency, which rotates each month.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had earlier said Ban was "shocked" by the claims, and that "the secretary-general reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by member states."
The US, France, Britain and others had demanded an immediate UN investigation.
A team of 20 UN inspectors is already in Syria with a mandate to investigate three past allegations of chemical weapons usage, leveled against both the military and the rebels.
Video footage released
Opposition activists in Syria offered vastly differing estimates on the number of casualties in Wednesday morning's attack, ranging from 100 to 1,300 people. Videos posted online appeared to showed medical staff attending to patients without visible wounds or bleeding. Some were convulsing, others appeared to have difficulty breathing, and children were among the wounded and dead.
The authenticity of the footage, however, could not be independently verified. A Syrian military spokesman called the rebels' claims "completely baseless and untrue." Syrian state media acknowledge the fighting to the east of Damascus, but dispute the use of chemical agents.
Leonid Kalasnikov, a member of Russia's foreign affairs committee, told the Interfax news agency that even if chemical weapons were used, government forces might not be responsible. Russia and China have largely sided with President Bashar al-Assad during the conflict, while fellow permanent Security Council members Britain, France and the US have offered their support to the opposition. All five permanent members have the power to vote down any Security Council proposal.
Syria's civil war is now in its 29th month. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011.
msh/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)