Russia Urges Syria To Allow UN 'Chemical' Probe

Russia Urges Syria To Allow UN 'Chemical' Probe

Russia has joined international calls for UN investigators to be allowed access to the site of an alleged chemical weapons massacre.

Syria's staunchest ally suggested the attack - which Syrian rebels claim killed 1,300 people - could be a "premeditated provocation" by opposition forces.

But it urged the Syrian government and the United Nations to agree on a visit by the experts, who are already in the country to examine previous claims of chemical weapons use in the two-and-a-half year civil war.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Syria's position on sending inspectors to the site of the reported attack should be respected, but dismissed the suggestion that Russia would object to such an investigation.

"We, quite the opposite, have an interest in the investigation into what happened (to) happen objectively," he said.

The Syrian government offered no immediate public response to the call amid a Cabinet reshuffle, but is now under mounting pressure to permit a probe by the UN team before any potential evidence is lost.

The Syrian opposition, Germany and Turkey on Thursday also joined demands from Britain, France and the United States for the UN inspectors to be given "immediate and unrestricted access" to the area "to try and establish the truth".

The UN was also facing growing international pressure to act if the claims were confirmed.

Unverified footage of casualties, including children, in makeshift hospitals suffering convulsions and breathing difficulties have been circulated on YouTube.

The Security Council said clarity was needed of the reports, but stopped short of explicitly demanding a probe by UN investigators.

Officials from Russia and China were reported to have blocked a stronger UN press statement supported by Britain, France, the US and others

However, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon this evening called on the Syrian government to allow the UN team to swiftly investigate the reports.

France earlier raised the possibility of intervention by saying the international community would need to respond with "force" if allegations that Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government was responsible were confirmed.

"If it is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force," French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told BFM-TV.

"There are possibilities for responding," he said without elaborating.

He added that if the UN Security Council could not make a decision, one would have to be taken "in other ways".

Mr Fabius called the alleged chemical attack "a horrendous tragedy" not seen since thousands of Iraqi Kurds were gassed by Saddam Hussein's forces at Halabja in 1988.

Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said "all red lines" had been crossed before a meeting in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who the Foreign Office confirmed had also spoken to US Secretary of State John Kerry about Syria.

The umbrella opposition National Coalition claims toxic gas was used by Assad's forces during a bombardment of rebel-held areas outside Damascus on Wednesday.

It said the death toll was likely to rise after a neighbourhood with many casualties was discovered in Zamalka.

Government officials said the claims were "totally false" and the international news organisations reporting them were "implicated in the shedding of Syrian blood and support terrorism".

Iran, Syria's chief regional ally, also rejected claims that the Assad regime was responsible, saying if such an attack was proven it would be down to the rebels, IRNA news agency said.

Syria is thought to have some of the world's largest stocks of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin, but the government in Damascus refuses to confirm this is the case.