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Syria: ‘Substance’ May Have Killed Civilians

Syria: UN-Arab League Envoy Says ‘Substance’ May Have Killed Civilians, Warns Against Military Intervention

New York, Aug 28 2013 - The joint United Nations-Arab League Envoy for Syria said today that while evidence suggests “some form of substance” was used in an incident that may have killed more than 1,000 people on the outskirts of Damascus last week, any military strike against the country in response must have the backing of the UN Security Council.

Recounting the “dramatic” developments in Syria over the past few days, Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters at a news conference in Geneva that the 21 August incident in the Ghouta suburb – currently being investigated by a team of UN inspectors – “is outrageous…unacceptable.”

“It confirms how dangerous the situation in Syria is and how important it is for the Syrians and the international community to really develop the political will to …look for a solution.”

When asked by reporters about the possibility of outside intervention in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons, Mr. Brahimi underscored: “International law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council.”

“I think 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,” referring to news reports that the Untied States stated it would be ready to stage a military strike in Syria as early as Thursday. The United Kingdom has also reportedly voiced its support for military intervention.

Mr. Brahimi said it seems that “some form of substance” was used but echoed the call of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the team UN inspectors on the ground must be given the opportunity to undertake their investigations.

“[Inspectors] 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 samples; they talked also to doctors and witnesses. They are in another area just now, as we speak, and we are waiting to see what they are going to tell us.”

Mr. Brahimi said he was still opposed to military action adding that the war between Government forces and opposition groups has already killed 100,000 people and displaced millions.

The UN-Arab league envoy emphasized that if anything, the 21 August incident makes it even more urgent to create the conditions for a successful Geneva II Conference.

“I have spoken to the American and the Russians and both countries tell me that they are still interested and committed to the Geneva II conference,” Mr. Brahimi said. “They both know that what has happened on 21 August will have an effect on how we proceed and how we get to that Conference,” he added.

The Geneva II Conference would seek to achieve a political solution through a comprehensive agreement between the Government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué of 30 June 2012.

Issued after a meeting of the Action Group for Syria, the document lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

“Syria is now undoubtedly the most serious crisis facing the international community,” Mr. Brahimi said. “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’s that they haven’t done enough before 21 August.”

Since fighting began in March 2011 between the Syrian Government and opposition groups seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad, more than 100,000 people have been killed, almost 2 million have fled to neighbouring countries and a further 4 million have been internally displaced. In addition, at least 6.8 million Syrian require urgent humanitarian assistance.

Mr. Brahimi once again appealed to Syrians and the international community to develop the political will to address the crisis seriously.

For more details go to UN News Centre at


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