UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council called for an investigation Wednesday into reports of alleged chlorine gas use in some Syrian towns, causing deaths and injuries.
Nigeria’s U.N. Ambassador U. Joy Ogwu, the current council president, said the allegations were raised during a closed-door council meeting following a briefing Wednesday by Sigrid Kaag, who heads the mission charged with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.
“Council members expressed grave concern about alleged reports of the use of chlorine gas in some towns which left some people dead and injured and called for an investigation of these incidents,” Ogwu said.
Ogwu said council members called for an investigation but did not discuss who should carry it out.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said his government categorically denied the use of chlorine gas.
Ja’afari further disputed chlorine gas could be categorized as a chemical weapon saying, “it is a mundane substance used for bleaching clothes in the laundry or disinfecting swimming pools.”
He said the allegations were aimed at overshadowing “the successful preparations for the presidential elections in Syria” which are scheduled for June 3. While President Bashar Assad has not announced that he will run, he is widely expected to be a candidate.
In two letters to the president of the Security Council, dated April 11 and April 16, the opposition Syrian National Coalition’s special representative to the U.N. accused the Syrian regime of using chemical agents in two separate attacks in recent days.
Najib Ghadbian said Syrian forces used barrel bombs “loaded with chemical and toxic gases” on the opposition-held town of Kafr Zita on April 11, with a majority of the 200 victims civilians.
In his other letter, Ghadbian said “regime forces were reported to have deployed chemical weapons in Harasta, a suburb of Damascus” on March 27.
According to diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the council meeting was closed, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the United States is trying to verify reports of a helicopter dropping chlorine.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Britain is “deeply disturbed by the increasing reports of new use of chemical weapons by the regime.”Australia’s U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan said if the use of chlorine gas is determined to be “part of the military strategy” then additional work will be needed to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.
Associated Press Writer Cara Anna contributed to this report from the United Nations.