Syrian opposition says will ensure safety of U.N. inspectors

ISTANBUL Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:07pm EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Syria's opposition said on Friday it would ensure the safety of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in areas of Syria it controls and said it was critical that they reached the site of an alleged gas attack near Damascus within 48 hours.

"We will ensure the safety of the U.N. team ... It is critical that those inspectors get there within 48 hours," Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition, told a news conference in Istanbul.

Saleh's comments were an apparent rebuttal of suggestions from Moscow earlier that the opposition was preventing an objective investigation into allegations that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack.

"Much needed signals from the opposition, including its readiness to guarantee the safety and effective work of U.N. experts on territory controlled by militants, unfortunately are not forthcoming," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"It is directly preventing an objective investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria."

Syrian activists say they are smuggling out body tissue samples from victims of the attack outside Damascus and are trying to get them to a team of U.N. inspectors staying in a hotel a few miles away. Saleh said the opposition would also try to get the samples out of Syria for tests.

(Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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