UN chemical weapons experts back in Syria

UN chemical weapons experts back in Syria
Ake Sellstrom (right), the head of the UN chemical weapons investigation team, arrives in the Syrian capital Damascus on September 25, 2013, ahead of new investigations into the use of the banned arms.

DAMASCUS - UN inspectors returned to Syria Wednesday to pursue a probe into alleged poison gas attacks, as Russia and the West wrangled over how to eliminate President Bashar al-Assad's banned chemical weapons.

The group, led by chief expert Ake Sellstrom, flew to Beirut in Lebanon and travelled by overland convoy via the Masnaa border post to Damascus.

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday demanded tough Security Council action against Syria as the conflict there dominated debate at the annual UN General Assembly.

Further complicating the situation for the international community, 13 key Syrian Islamist groups said they did not recognise any foreign-based opposition group, including the main Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition.

The groups include members of the main rebel Free Syrian Army and more radical Islamists such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

Sellstrom's inspectors are expected to examine the alleged use of chemical weapons some 14 times in the 30-month conflict that is estimated to have killed more than 110,000 people.

After a preliminary visit last month, his team concluded in a report presented on September 16 that banned chemical weapons had been widely used in fighting between Assad's regime and rebel forces.

There was clear evidence that sarin gas was used in an attack in the Eastern Ghouta neighbourhood near Damascus on August 21, the report said.

Sellstrom pointed out that the report was only an interim document, and that other allegations needed to be examined.

"There have been other accusations presented to the UN secretary general, dating back to March, against both sides" in the war, he told AFP earlier this month.

There were "13, 14 accusations" that "have to be investigated".

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