UN: Possible timing of Syria attack ‘grotesque’

UN: Possible timing of Syria attack ‘grotesque’

Spokesman Martin Nesirky says about 1,000 international staff-persons remain in the country

A vehicle with UN experts on board in a convoy following their investigation in Syria after they crossed into Lebanon on their way to Beirut international airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)
A vehicle with UN experts on board in a convoy following their investigation in Syria after they crossed into Lebanon on their way to Beirut international airport, in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The top UN spokesman says any notion that the departure of the UN chemical weapons inspection team from Syria opens a window for a US attack is “grotesque.”

Spokesman Martin Nesirky notes that about 1,000 international and UN staff remain in Syria, and the United Nations is just as concerned about their welfare as it is about its team of inspectors. He also says the Syrian population would be vulnerable to harm.

Nesirky spoke at a news conference Saturday after UN disarmament chief Angela Kane briefed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons strike outside Damascus.

Nesirky says Ban will be briefed further by the head of the UN chemical weapons team Sunday. The team is in Europe and will have to analyze the evidence in laboratories before making their report.

A broad range of estimates has been offered on how many Syrians were killed in the suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus on Aug. 21 that seems poised to drag the US into Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war.

The US government says its preliminary figures show 1,429 people were killed, including 426 children, but that this “will certainly evolve” as more information is obtained. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the death toll as part of the administration’s overall intelligence assessment of what happened during the attacks, based on satellite and signal intelligence as well as information from activists, regime sources and social media. Kerry did not say specifically how the death toll was compiled, but cited it as he made the case for punishing the Syrian regime the US blames for the attack.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed political opposition group, says at least 1,460 people were killed in the strikes on rebel-held western and eastern suburbs of Damascus. The coalition and Majed Abu Ali, who said he is a spokesman for 17 clinics and field hospitals east of Damascus, provided a list of 395 names of people killed. On that list, some of the victims were only identified by their first name or said to be members of a certain family.

Abu Ali said the overall death toll is based on reports received from the clinics, but would not elaborate or provide a breakdown of the number of dead counted at each clinic. He said the total could be off slightly due to possible double-counting as victims were being moved. Three other senior anti-regime activists referred questions to Abu Ali.

The coalition did not respond to requests to provide further explanation.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which draws its information from a network of anti-regime activists in Syria, says it only counts victims identified by name, and that the current total stands at 502. The list is based on interviews with hospital officials and activists in the affected areas, said Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Observatory.

Abdel-Rahman said he was not asked by US officials to share his information. He questioned the claims of more than 1,400 killed and urged the Obama administration to release the information its figure is based on.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

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