* Russian experts inspected alleged chemical attack site
* UN officials agree to visit Syria to discuss probe
* Envoy: Syrian army likely responsible for Aleppo attack
* Western nations skeptical about Russian analysis
(Adds Sellstrom, U.N. disarmament chief to go to Syria,
paragraph 3, 23)
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, July 10 The opposition Syrian
National Coalition on Wednesday denied a Russian charge that
rebel fighters fired a projectile laden with the nerve agent
sarin at a suburb of Aleppo in March, saying U.N. inspectors
should be allowed to investigate the attack.
Separately, Western diplomats said Russia blocked a draft
U.N. Security Council resolution this week calling for a stalled
U.N. chemical weapons investigation team to be allowed to visit
Syria and to be permitted to conduct an "objective" inquiry.
The United Nations said in a statement that the head of the
U.N. chemical arms team, Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, and U.N.
disarmament chief Angela Kane have accepted an invitation from
the Syrian government to discuss their investigation of alleged
chemical attacks in Syria.
Russia, along with Iran, is Syria's closest ally and chief
arms supplier. The draft resolution echoed a recent statement by
the Group of Eight (G8) developed nations including Russia.
"The Free Syrian Army strongly condemns all usage of
chemical weapons against a civilian population and denies
Russia's allegations about the FSA using chemical weapons in
Khan al-Assal, Aleppo," Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the
coalition, said in a statement.
"Only the Assad regime has the know-how, capability and
willingness to use these weapons," Saleh said, referring to
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The coalition and supreme military council have asked for
the U.N. monitors to come to Syria to investigate the use of
these weapons and the Assad regime refuses to allow them to do
so," he said.
Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, on Tuesday said Russian
scientific analysis strongly indicated a projectile containing
sarin that hit Khan al-Assal on March 19, killing 26 civilians
and military personnel, was fired by rebels.
The government and rebels have blamed each other for that
incident, as well numerous other alleged chemical attacks. Both
sides deny using chemical weapons.
"The usage of chemical weapons is inconsistent with the
guiding principles and goals of the Syrian revolution," Saleh
said. "Targeting civilians indiscriminately to achieve political
gains is a common characteristic of the Assad regime."
The United States has cast doubt on the Russian analysis of
the Khan al-Assal incident and, along with France, called for
full U.N. access to Syrian sites where chemical weapons use was
The United Nations says as many as 100,000 have died in the
two-year civil war.
CHEMICAL PROJECTILE FELL SHORT?
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Western
diplomat also expressed skepticism about the Russian claim that
the rebels were behind the Khan al-Assal attack.
He dismissed the idea that Assad's government was willing to
let the U.N. team investigate Aleppo because it was certain the
rebels were responsible for the March 19 chemical attack. He
said available evidence suggested the Syrian army carried out
"What they hope will be discovered there is lots of soldiers
who were poisoned by chemical weapons, which is true," the envoy
said. "But our information suggests that that was because the
projectile ... fell short and landed in an area where there were
Syrian troops, not that the opposition had done it."
Churkin said Russian experts visited the location where the
projectile struck and took their own samples of material from
the site. Those samples, he said, were then analyzed at a
Russian laboratory certified by the Organization for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
He also said that the projectile was not a standard military
Speaking on condition of anonymity, Western diplomats on the
15-nation Security Council said Russia blocked a draft
resolution based on a statement Moscow supported at last month's
G8 summit in Belfast that urged all parties to the conflict to
grant access to the U.N. team "in order to conduct an objective
investigation into reports of the use of chemical weapons."
Diplomats said Russia justified its opposition to the
resolution by saying the timing was not right. Russia's U.N.
mission did not respond to a request for comment.
So far, chief U.N. chemical weapons inspector Sellstrom's
team has not traveled to Syria because of diplomatic wrangling
over the scope of access he would have there.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants Sellstrom to have
unfettered access to investigate all credible alleged chemical
attacks while Assad's government wants the U.N. experts to
confine their investigation to the March 19 incident. That
disagreement has caused a deadlock in talks between the United
Nations and Syria on access for the inspection team.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari on Monday said his
government has invited Sellstrom and U.N. disarmament chief Kane
to Damascus to discuss allegations of banned arms use in Syria's
two-year civil war but suggested it would not compromise on
Ban met with Sellstrom in New York on Wednesday to discuss
Sellstrom's work, the U.N. said in a statement. It added that
Sellstrom provided Ban with an "oral update" of his work outside
of Syria, including information he has received from U.N. member
states. Diplomats say that Britain and the United States have
provided the U.N. with details of 10 alleged chemical attacks.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen and