U.N. chemical arms chief arrives in Beirut before Syria trip

BEIRUT Tue Jul 23, 2013 11:55am EDT

A portrait of Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom is seen in Umea in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Erik Hillbom/Scanpix Sweden

A portrait of Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom is seen in Umea in this undated handout photo.

Credit: Reuters/Erik Hillbom/Scanpix Sweden

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - The head of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday on his way to Syria to discuss his probe into allegations that chemical arms have been used in Syria's civil war.

Ake Sellstrom, a Swede, flew from Paris to Beirut and was due to drive overland to Syria, a source at Beirut's Rafik Hariri airport said, accompanied by the head of the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane. It was not clear exactly when they would make the short drive to the Syrian border.

Sellstrom's full team has not been allowed into Syria due to diplomatic wrangling over how much access it will have. His mission this week aims to reach an agreement for it to start work inside Syria.

Damascus is refusing to let them go anywhere apart from Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, and Russia, say rebels used chemical weapons in March. Both sides deny using chemical weapons.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has insisted that the team be permitted to visit at least one other location, the city of Homs, site of an alleged chemical attack by the government in December 2012.

The trip is taking place at the invitation of the Syrian government; Sellstrom and Kane will meet the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem as well as technical experts.

Sellstrom has visited Turkey and received information from U.N. member states about alleged chemical attacks in Syria, where the United Nations says nearly 100,000 people have died in the conflict.

Syria is one of seven countries that have not joined the 1997 convention banning chemical weapons. Western nations believe it has caches of undeclared mustard gas as well as the nerve agents sarin and VX.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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