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United Nations chief calls for unfettered probe of alleged Syria chemical attack

11 April 2018

Washington has promised "forceful" response to Saturday's alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 40 people in Douma, Syria.

In April a year ago, the U.S. attacked a Syrian air base with cruise missiles after concluding that the government of President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.

US President Donald Trump cancelled a planned trip to Peru and Colombia to work on the Syria response.

An worldwide chemical weapons watchdog is preparing to send a team to Syria to investigate whether prohibited materials were used in an attack on a rebel enclave last weekend.

Fielding questions at the White House, Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders said it would be "outrageous" to say that Trump's recent announcement that he intends to remove all USA forces from Syria in the coming months had emboldened Assad.

Washington and Moscow set out starkly different positions at a stormy emergency session at the UN Security Council, where Russia's ambassador Vassily Nebenzia warned that the possibility of United States military action was "very, very unsafe".

Trump said there was little question that Syria was responsible for the apparent weekend attack, although the government of President Bashar Assad denied it.

The OPCW has worked in relative obscurity since it was founded in 1997 to oversee the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms control treaty that bans the development, production, possession and use of chemical weapons.

The draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, was circulated ahead of an emergency Security Council meeting.

The draft resolution was supported by five nations, including Sweden and Russian Federation.

Nebenzia accused the United States of trying to mislead the global community and said it is "taking one more step toward confrontation".

Bolivia voted against it alongside Russian Federation, while China abstained.

"This resolution is the bare minimum that the council can do to respond to the attack", USA ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council before the vote.

On Monday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that the Israeli army's use of force against Palestinians at violent protests inside the Gaza Strip was unacceptable. "This is very alarming for us", he said.

Doctors and witnesses have said victims showed symptoms of poisoning, possibly by a nerve agent, and also reported the smell of chlorine gas.

US officials told Reuters that Washington was weighing a multinational military response.

"This is basically a diplomatic set-up", said Richard Gowan, a United Nations expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The imminent deployment of the OPCW investigators could delay planning for a possible airstrike on Syria by the United States, potentially aided by France and Britain.

Syrian government forces were on high alert and taking precautionary measures Tuesday at military positions across the country amid fears of a US strike in the aftermath of the attack near Damascus.