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Hague: Assad backers must 'wake up'
Foreign Secretary William Hague has urged international supporters of the Syrian regime to "wake up to...its murderous and barbaric nature" as the United Nations Security Council met to discuss reports of a deadly chemical weapon attack.
Opposition leaders say 1,300 died when rockets loaded with toxic agents landed on the outskirts of Damascus and footage claiming to show victims has circulated widely on the internet. Bashar Assad's government has denied the claims - which came as a UN inspection team was beginning work assessing previous claims of chemical weapons use - as "baseless".
Russia, which has supported the regime and vetoed past attempts to secure a tough UN resolution, suggested it could be a "premeditated provocation" by opposition forces. But Mr Hague sent a clear message in Paris during talks with his French counterpart on Wednesday.
"I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime, to realise its murderous and barbaric nature."
But the council failed to agree on on a firmly worded call on Syria during the two-hour closed-door meeting, sources said. Argentina's UN Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, the current council president, said afterwards that the council backed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's determination for "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation" into the allegations.
Diplomats, who did not want to be named, told the Associated Press that Russia and China blocked a stronger press statement supported by Britain, France, the United States and others.
Earlier, Mr Hague said that if verified, the attack "would mark a shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Those who order the use of chemical weapons, and those who use them, should be in no doubt that we will work in every way we can to hold them to account. I call on the Syrian Government to allow immediate access to the area for the UN team currently investigating previous allegations of chemical weapons use."
The team of UN inspectors was only recently granted access to Syria - and would need permission to extend its work beyond the sites where chemical weapons were previously alleged to have been used. "There is no excuse for the Syrian regime not to provide access to the UN team that are in Damascus now to assess the use of chemical weapons," Mr Hague said.
Unverified footage of casualties, including children, in makeshift hospitals suffering convulsions and breathing difficulties has circulated on YouTube. Rami Abdul-Rahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said "poisonous gas" was fired in rockets as well as from the air. He said he has documented at least 100 deaths, but said it was not clear whether the victims died from shelling or toxic gas.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, put the number at 1,300. The group said it was basing its claim on accounts and photographs by activists on the ground. The Syrian government and opposition groups have repeatedly accused each other of chemical warfare, something US president Barack Obama has warned was a "clear red line".