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UN Team Probing Syrian Gas Attack Completes Day 1 Despite Sniper Fire

The U.N. team of inspectors probing the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria spent its first day in the Damascus suburb where the alleged incident took place, interviewing witnesses, survivors, doctors, and collecting samples in spite of an attack on their convoy on Monday.

The team returned to the site after its convoy was hit by sniper fire in the morning. Though one of its vehicle was destroyed, the team headed by Swedish scientist Åke Sellström, was unharmed. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. would register a strong complaint with the Syrian government and Opposition authorities about the attack "so the safety…of the investigation team will be secured."

"What I am told is that despite the very difficult circumstances, our team replaced their car and returned to the suburbs of Damascus to carry out their investigation," he said after being briefed by U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane, who is in the Syrian capital meeting with the government to facilitate access for the team.

Ban said he was now waiting for a full report from Dr. Ake Sellström.

The Team is spending up to 14 days, with a possible extension, probing the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government at Khan al-Asal, as well as two other allegations reported by Member-States. The team is working in cooperation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Speaking from Seoul where he is on an official visit, the U.N. chief earlier said "every hour counts" and demanded that all parties allow this mission "to conduct a full, thorough and unimpeded investigation."

He said he has "total confidence in the expertise, professionalism and integrity" of the team.

Ban also reiterated that any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is a serious violation of international law and an outrageous crime. "We cannot allow impunity in what appears to be a grave crime against humanity," he stressed.

The Ghouta area outside Damascus is the site from where the latest allegations of chemical weapons use was reported. The August 21 attack reportedly killed more than 300 civilians including children.

Citing those figures, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) added its voice to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and others for all parties in the conflict to stop targeting civilians.

As many as 100,000 people, including more than 7,000 children, have been killed in the Syrian unrest that began in March 2011, which later turned out to be a civil war.

Almost two million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and a further four million internally displaced. At least 6.8 million people, half of them children, require urgent humanitarian assistance.

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