New Syria Outrage: Snipers Shoot at UN Inspectors on Way to Chemical Gas Site


syrianAugust 26, 2013 – The West’s threatened bomb attack against Syria brought tensions to a head today as UN inspectors were shot at hunting for signs of a chemical weapons attack.

PM David Cameron faced flak from MPs at home and internationally from Bashar al Assad’s regime and its allies over any decision to take military action.

And there were signs of panic in Israel as people bought gas masks fearing they might become reprisal targets for Syria following a bombardment led by the US.

After finally getting the go-ahead to move in, UN experts came under fire looking for evidence of sarin nerve agent, believed to have caused up 1,400 deaths – hundreds of them children – in the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya last week.

A UN statement said the lead vehicle was “deliberately shot at multiple times” by unidentified gunmen in a buffer zone between rebel and government territory.

The 4×4 was forced back to the UN’s hotel in central Damascus and the attack delayed the experts’ work, meaning they could only visit six of 12 sites on their itinerary.

In a video posted online a resident tells an inspector of heavy raids, with “over 600 canister strikes…12 tanks, 100 soldiers”.

But British, American and French governments already believe the Syrian government is responsible for any chemical attack.

And the growing likelihood of allied missile strikes has sparked outrage in Russia – and questions at home.

Mr Cameron spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin last night about the possible action.

Sources said Mr Putin refused to accept a chemical attack had even taken place. But the Americans were in no doubt.

Backing Foreign Secretary William Hague’s stance at the weekend, US ­Secretary of State John Kerry said the “cowardly crime” in Syria could not be allowed to pass.

He said: “The use of chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.

“The President will be making an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons.”

But he added: “There must be accountability. What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world.

“The meaning of this attack goes beyond Syria itself. This is about the large-scale, indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world, long ago, decided must never be used.

“There is a clear reason the world had banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There’s a reason that the world has set a clear standard.”

The PM will speak to Mr Obama today and is expected to announce if Parliament is to be recalled to debate missile strikes.

Mr Cameron is due back at his desk in Downing Street this morning after cutting short his holiday in Cornwall.

The key question he faces from home and abroad is whether any military action without a UN resolution would be legal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Allies cannot produce evidence, but keep on saying that the ‘red line’ has been crossed and they cannot wait any longer.

“The use of force without the approval of the United Nations Security Council is a very grave violation of international law.

“If anybody thinks that bombing and destroying the Syrian military infrastructure, and leaving the battlefield for the opponents of the regime to win, would end everything – that is an illusion.”

Ironically domestic politicians share similar concerns.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said: “The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister do need to be open about objectives, the legal basis, and the anticipated effect of any possible UK military action in Syria.”

And backbench Tory Andrew Bridgen, who sent a letter signed by more than 80 of his Conservative colleagues demanding a vote on any escalation of Britain’s involvement earlier this year, said a recall should be announced and the PM or William Hague should make the case for action.

The North West Leicestershire MP said: “We need an immediate recall of Parliament to debate any further involvement in this crisis.

“It’s a complicated conflict with potentially worldwide ramifications.”

Fellow Tory MP Sarah Wollaston added: “This is a complex ethical issue with grave risks of further escalation.”
Mr Cameron will chair a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday with military chiefs and senior Cabinet ministers to decide what action will be taken.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has cancelled a visit to UK troops in Afghanistan to join the talks.

Earlier Mr Hague restated his belief the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical atrocity saying there was “no plausible explanation other than it has been carried out by the Assad regime”.

He said: “To believe that anybody else had done it, you would have to believe that the opposition in Syria would use, on a large scale, weapons we have no evidence they have, delivered by artillery or airpower that they do not possess, killing hundreds of people in areas already under their control.

“That is just not a credible explanation.”

Mr Hague said diplomacy had not worked and claimed a “strong response” was needed.

Asked if action could be taken as early as this week, he said: “I am not going to rule anything in or out. I am not going to speculate.” But he said any intervention would be “in accordance with international law”.

He added: “It is possible to take action based on great humanitarian need and great ­humanitarian distress.”

But Syrian state media still blamed rebel forces for the massacre.

Assad’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mikdad added that air strikes against Syria would also trigger “chaos” and threaten worldwide peace and security.

He said: “If individual countries want to pursue aggressive and adventurous policies, the natural answer … would be that Syria, which has been fighting against terrorism for almost three years, will also defend itself against international attack.”

The tension led to thousands of Israelis queuing for gas masks, fearing any Western military response could ensnare their own country in war.

Many worry that President Assad could strike out at Israel in retaliation for Western air strikes.

Members of the Syrian opposition pulled out of proposed Geneva peace talks because of the alleged chemical attack.

But as the UN conducted its painstaking hunt for clues, it seemed unlikely a full report would be available any time soon.

One witness Dr Abu Akram, who runs a makeshift hospital in the area allegedly struck by chemical weapons, said the inspectors were delayed for four hours because of sniper fire.

Dr Akram said: “They were supposed to stay for six hours but they stayed for half an hour.”

But experts went on with their tour of Mouadamiya, taking samples and meeting victims.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon insisted the tests were still worthwhile, despite the fact they will not rule who was responsible – only whether or not an attack took place.

His spokesman said: “Despite the passage of a number of days, the Secretary-General is confident the team will be able to obtain and analyse evidence.”