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UN Envoy: Syria 'Substance' May Have Killed 1,000

Updated: Thursday, August 29 2013, 01:17 PM EDT

GENEVA (AP) - Evidence suggests that some kind of "substance" was used in Syria that may have killed more than 1,000 people, but any military strike in response must first gain U.N. Security Council approval, special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday.

Brahimi spoke to reporters in Geneva as U.N. chemical weapons experts headed to a Damascus suburb for another look at the alleged poison gas attack near Damascus on Aug. 21 and as momentum built for Western military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

"With what has happened on the 21st of August last week, it does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people: hundreds, definitely more than a hundred, some people say 300, some people say 600, maybe 1,000, maybe more than 1,000 people," said Brahimi, who has been the U.N. and Arab League's special envoy to Syria since August 2012.

"This was of course unacceptable. This is outrageous. This confirms how dangerous the situation in Syria is and how important for the Syrians and the international community to really develop the political will to address this issue seriously, and look for a solution for it," he said.

Brahimi did not say on what he based his information, but he did discuss the work of the U.N. team probing for evidence of the use of chemical weapons.

"The United Nations has inspectors on the spot. They have already spent one day in one area where this substance — whatever it is — has been used," he said. "They have come back with a lot of samplings, they talked also to doctors, they talked to witnesses."

He said his information did not come from Western intelligence, including what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical attack likely launched by Assad's regime.

"What we have been told is that this evidence that the Americans, the British, the French say they have is going to be shared with us. It hasn't been until now," he said. "And we will be very, very, very interested in hearing from them what this evidence they have is."

Syria has one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical charges, but denies the charges. U.S. leaders have not presented their proof, and U.N. inspectors have yet to comment on the allegations.

Brahimi called the civil war — which has killed more than 100,000, forced about 2 million refugees from their homes and displaced millions of others — the most serious crisis facing the international community.

But he said that any U.S.-led military action must first gain approval from the 15-nation Security Council, whose five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — each have veto power. The United States has been laying the groundwork for a possible strike on Syria, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged nations to allow more time for diplomacy.

Britain says it will seek a measure "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria. They want it drafted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable, when it is a political resolution that doesn't mandate any specific actions.

"International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council," Brahimi said. "I must say that I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy.-What they will decide, I don't know. But certainly international law is very clear: the Security Council has to be brought in."

Military intervention would certainly complicate Brahimi's efforts toward hosting a second Geneva peace conference to find a political settlement in Syria, as a follow-up on a June 2012 foreign ministers' conference, which isn't likely to occur until October or later. Brahimi moved his base of operations to Geneva this month for that reason, but he said Wednesday that he merely hopes a conference can be pulled off by the end of the year.

Although he is "against military intervention by principle," Brahimi said decisive action must come soon.

"If they are responsible for what has happened on the 21st of August," he said of the Assad regime, "I don't think you will find many people who think that this is the first outrageous thing that has been done by this regime.

"One hundred thousand people have been killed. Quite a few of them have been killed by the regime. So I think, from my point of view, if there is one complaint about the international community, it is that they haven't done enough before the 21st August. If they can do more after the 21st August, then that would be great."

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

UN Envoy: Syria 'Substance' May Have Killed 1,000


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The Syrian civil war, (also known as the Syrian uprising or Syrian crisis) is an ongoing armed conflict in Syria between forces loyal to the Ba'ath government and those seeking to oust it. A part of the larger Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, the conflict began March 15th, 2011 with local demonstrations that grew in scope to become nationwide by April 2011.

Protesters demanded the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in Syria since 1971, as well as the end of Ba'ath Party rule, which began in 1963.

The Syrian Army was deployed in April of 2011 to stop the uprising, and soldiers fired on demonstrators across the country. After months of cities and neighborhoods being cut-off by the Army the protests evolved into an armed rebellion.

The Arab League, United States, European Union, and other countries condemned the use of violence against the protesters. The Arab League suspended Syria's membership as a result of the government's response to the crisis, but granted the Syrian National Coalition, a coalition of Syrian political opposition groups, Syria's seat on 6 March 2013.

According to the UN, about 4 million Syrians have been displaced within the country and 2 million have fled to other countries.

Syrian government supporters include Russia and Iran, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia are providing material and weapons to the rebels.


 
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