UN holds emergency meeting on Syria attack

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council called Wednesday for "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation" of the

latest allegation of chemical weapons use in Syria.

The council backed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's determination to ensure a "thorough investigation" of the alleged attack

on the eastern suburbs of Damascus that killed at least 100 people.

U.N. deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said earlier that the secretary-general was "shocked" at Wednesday's alleged use of

chemical weapons and wants all reported incidents investigated.

During a two-hour closed-door meeting, diplomats said Russia and China, which support the Syrian government, blocked a stronger

press statement supported by Britain, France, the United States and others.

But Russia and China agreed that the council

president could sum up the session with "press elements" — close to the

weakest

response from the U.N.'s most powerful body, the diplomats said,

speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions

were private.

Argentina's U.N. Ambassador Maria Cristina

Perceval, the current council president, told reporters that there was

"strong

concern" about the latest allegations of alleged chemical weapons

use "and a general sense that there must be clarity on what

happened."

Syrian anti-government activists accused President Bashar Assad's regime of carrying out a toxic gas attack that killed at

least 100 people, including many children as they slept. The government denied using chemical weapons.

Perceval said council members "welcomed the determination of the secretary-general to ensure a thorough, impartial and prompt

investigation."

"All council members agreed that any use of

chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances is a violation of

international

law," she said. "There was also an agreement for a strong call for

a cessation of hostilities and a cease-fire ... (and) the

need for immediate humanitarian assistance to the victims."

The attack coincided with the visit to Syria by a 20-member U.N. chemical weapons team which only has a mandate to investigate

three previous allegations of chemical weapons use.

Before the council meeting, a letter drafted by Britain and France was sent to the secretary-general requesting that the team

launch "an urgent investigation ... as expeditiously as possible" into Wednesday's incident as well.

Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador Philip Parham said about 35 countries signed the letter, including the United States.

The letter, obtained by The Associated

Press, cited "credible reports of the use of chemical weapons" and urged

the secretary-general

"to do all you can to ensure that the mission has urgent access to

all relevant sites and sources of information."

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson,

who briefed the council, expressed hope that the Syrian government will

give the

team access to the site as soon as possible, though he cautioned

that "the security situation right now does not allow such

access."

"This represents, no matter what conclusions

are, a serious escalation with grave humanitarian consequences and

human consequences,"

Eliasson stressed.

He called for a cessation of hostilities not only in the area of the alleged attack but throughout Syria, where the U.N. says

more than 100,000 people have been killed in the 2 1/2 year conflict.

"What this incident has shown is, of course, that we must contain this conflict," Eliasson said. "We have already seen effects

on the regional implications, and now, the possibility of the use of chemical weapons which is to be investigated."

A White House spokesman said the U.S. supported a U.N. investigation and a Security Council debate.

Under the terms of an agreement between the

U.N. and the Syrian government, the U.N. team will investigate an

alleged chemical

weapons attack on March 19 on the village of Khan al Assal outside

the city of Aleppo, which was captured by the rebels last

month. It will investigate two other sites of alleged attacks,

which are being kept secret for security reasons.

Chemical weapons experts have raised doubts about whether the chemical weapons experts will find anything at the three sites

because the alleged attacks took place months ago.

But if chemical weapons were used Wednesday, a prompt investigation would be much more likely to produce evidence.

Del Buey said the head of the U.N. team, Swedish professor Ake Sellstrom, "is in discussions with the Syrian government on

all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident."

He said the secretary-general was aware that a number of member states, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed

"grave concern" about the latest alleged attack.

"The secretary-general reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that

are brought to his attention by member states," del Buey said.

Diplomats cautioned that the mandate for the current investigation is limited.

The U.N. team will report on whether

chemical weapons were used, and if so which ones, but it will not

determine the responsibility

for an attack. This has led some commentators to question the

value of the investigation.

On June 13, the United States said it had

conclusive evidence that Assad's regime had used chemical weapons

against opposition

forces. That crossed what President Barack Obama had called a "red

line" and prompted a U.S. decision to send arms and ammunition

to the opposition, though reports say none have arrived yet.