U.N. inspectors arrive in Damascus on chemical weapons hunt

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian victim who suffered an alleged chemical attack at Khan al-Assal village according to SANA, receives treatment by doctors, at a hospital in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday March 19, 2013. The U.S. has not found evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons. AP Photo/SANA

DAMASCUS, Syria U.N. inspectors have arrived in the Syrian capital on a mission to probe for the alleged use of chemical weapons.

The 20-member team comprising inspectors and assistants were driven in a convoy of seven cars.

They arrived at a five-star hotel in the heart of Damascus on Sunday and were whisked away from a crush of reporters and cameramen waiting for them at the hotel's entrance.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Associated Press before their arrival that Syria will "fully cooperate" with the team.

Their mission will be limited to investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in three areas, specifically an attack on March 19 in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal, which President Bashar Assad blames on rebels.

The other two sites have been kept secret.

President Bashar Assad's government initially asked the U.N. to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 on the village of Khan al Assal outside the embattled city of Aleppo, which was captured by the rebels last month. The government and rebels blame each other for the purported attack which killed at least 30 people.

Britain, France and the U.S. followed with allegations of chemical weapons use in Homs, Damascus and elsewhere. U.N. Mideast envoy Robert Serry told the Security Council last month that the U.N. has received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.

On June 13, the United States said it had conclusive evidence that Assad's regime had used chemical weapons against opposition forces. That crossed what President Barack Obama had called a "red line" and prompted a U.S. decision to send arms and ammunition to the opposition.

But agreement on a U.N. investigation was delayed for months because Syria wanted to limit the probe to Khan al-Assal and the secretary-general, backed by the U.S., Britain and France, insisted on a broader investigation.

The U.N. gave approval for the probe on July 31 following an "understanding" reached with Syria during a visit to Damascus by U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane and Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, the team's leader, that three sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used would be investigated.

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