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Chemical attack sites to be investigated

BEIRUT — UN inspectors left central Damascus today to investigate sites of an alleged chemical weapons strike on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, a Reuters witness said, after calls from Western powers for military action to punish what may be the world’s worst chemical attack in 25 years.

Syria agreed yesterday to allow the inspectors to visit the site. But the United States and its allies say evidence has probably been destroyed by heavy government shelling of the area over the past five days. It said the offer to allow inspectors came too late.

The six-car convoy of chemical weapons experts wearing blue UN body armour was accompanied by a car of security forces as well as an ambulance. They said they were headed to the rebel-held outskirts known as Eastern Ghouta, where activists say rockets loaded with poison gas killed hundreds of people early on Wednesday.

President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting a 2-1/2-year revolt, said accusations that his forces used chemical weapons were politically motivated and warned the United States against intervening in his country.

“Would any state use chemicals or any other weapons of mass destruction in a place where its own forces are concentrated? That would go against elementary logic. So accusations of this kind are entirely political,” he told the Russian newspaper Izvestia in an interview.

“Failure awaits the United States as in all previous wars it has unleashed, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day.”

The United Nations said Damascus agreed to a ceasefire while the UN experts are at the site for inspections.

Activists in Ghouta said that rebels had also agreed to halt operations and several brigades would provide protection to the visiting UN team.

But as one activist spoke to Reuters by Skype, the sound of exploding mortar shells could be heard in the distance — highlighting the dangers and difficulties inspectors may face as they try to investigate. (Reuters)

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