DAMASCUS: United Nations (UN) inspectors tasked with investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria arrived on Sunday (Monday in Manila) in Damascus as fierce fighting raged in the coastal heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s clan.
The fighting in Latakia came as Assad vowed again that he was determined to “eradicate terrorism” which he blames for the deadly conflict that has plagued his country for the past 29 months.
The conflict has fuelled a massive exodus out of Syria, with nearly two million refugees seeking shelter in neighbouring countries and thousands more crossed into Iraq in recent days, the UN said.
A team of more than 10 inspectors arrived at the Four Seasons hotel in the Syrian capital to begin their hard-won mission which UN officials have said will last two weeks.
The mission had been repeatedly delayed over differences with Assad’s regime concerning the scope of the probe into the alleged use of chemical arms in the Syrian war.
Both the government and the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad accuse each other of using chemical weapons.
The regime admitted in July last year for the first time that it has chemical weapons, threatening to use them to protect the country against Western military intervention but “never against the people”.
At the time, US President Barack Obama warned the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that would constitute a “game-changer”.
On Thursday, Damascus said it has “nothing to hide”.
The UN team is led by Swedish arms expert Aake Sellstroem and is expected to investigate Khan al-Assal, near the northern city of Aleppo.
The government says rebels used chemical weapons on March 19, killing at least 26 people, including 16 Syrian soldiers, but the opposition says government forces carried out the attack.