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U.N. experts in Syria to visit site of poison gas attack

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria agreed Sunday to a U.N. investigation into last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus – a deal a senior White House official dismissed as “too late to be credible,” saying the United States has “very little doubt” President Bashar Assad’s forces used such weapons.

The hardening of the U.S. position came as calls for military action grow. In a sign the U.S. may be a step closer to an armed response, naval forces have already been dispatched toward Syria’s coastal waters, although President Barack Obama has cautioned against a hasty decision.

With France, Britain, Israel and some U.S. congressmen urging swift military action against Assad’s regime if the use of chemical agents is confirmed, the U.N. team’s conclusions could have a dramatic impact on the trajectory of the country’s civil war.

The agreement struck in Damascus calls for U.N. experts already in the country to begin an investigation Monday into the suspected chemical attack on rebel-held areas in the capital’s eastern suburbs.

Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in an artillery barrage by regime forces Wednesday that included the use of toxic gas. The government calls the allegations “absolutely baseless.”

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CEASEFIRE DURING INSPECTIONS

The United Nations said Damascus had agreed to a ceasefire while the U.N. experts are at the site for inspections.

Syria confirmed it had agreed to allow access to the inspectors, who arrived in Syria to investigate smaller chemical weapons allegations just three days before the huge incident, which occurred before dawn after a night of heavy bombardment.

Medicins sans Frontieres says at least 355 people were reported dead in three hospitals from symptoms of poisoning. President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents have given death tolls ranging from 500 to well over 1,000.

The experts’ mandate is to find out whether chemical weapons were used, not to assign blame, but the evidence they collect, for example about the missile used, can provide a strong indication about the identity of the party responsible.

Source: Agencies

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