Lavrov urges caution over Syria chemical weapons reports

Brussels, April 24 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Any reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict must be carefully investigated to avoid the repetition of the “Iraqi scenario”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

Syria is believed to possess large stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.

“We believe that any concrete reports that chemical weapons were used or that there are serious concrete suspicions that there was such use should be immediately investigated by experts on the spot,” Lavrov said after a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels.

He said Syria should not face the repetition of the so-called “Iraqi scenario”, in which unconfirmed suspicions that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction were enough for invasion.

“The Syrian government has confirmed its readiness to receive experts investigating a particular incident and readiness to receive experts in any place in Syria if there is specific information that chemical weapons could have been used there,” Lavrov said.

The Russian minister described the delays in sending a UN mission to investigate the reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria as “an attempt to politicize the issue” and force the “Iraqi scenario” on Syria.

Last month, the Syrian government and rebels accused each other of using chemical weapons in an incident in Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province.

A team of international experts was dispatched to Syria to investigate the incident, but it is still in Cyprus awaiting permission to enter the country as the Syrian authorities have refused to allow the experts to probe other reported instances of chemical weapons use, according to UN officials.

Britain and France have informed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that they have reliable evidence, based on soil samples and witness accounts, that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in two locations near Damascus March 19, as well as in the city of Homs Dec 23.

A senior Israeli military official claimed Tuesday that troops loyal to Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons against the rebels several times.

Brigadier General Itai Brun, head of research and analysis in Israeli military intelligence, said he based his assessment on visual evidence of alleged attacks.

A confirmation of these reports could bring the international community closer to direct military intervention in the Syrian conflict, which is threatening to spill over the borders to neighbouring countries.

–IANS/RIA Novosti

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