The US now has strong indications that chemical weapons were not used in the attack in north Syria Tuesday, a senior American official said.
The official said Thursday that additional intelligence-gathering has led the US to believe more strongly that chemical weapons were not used.
- Chemical attack in north Syria: 'People fell dead to the floor'
- Syria accuses rebels of firing chemical weapon
- Wounded Syrians treated in Israel
The US and its allies – first and foremost Israel - have been looking into allegations by the Syrian regime that rebels carried out a chemical weapons attack in northern Aleppo province last Tuesday. Rebels, for their part, blame regime forces.
Destruction in Aleppo (Photo: MCT)
The Russian foreign ministry has claimed that such weapons were in fact used, and similar claims were made by Israel – although Israel claimed the amount of chemicals involved was minor.
There are fears that Syrian President Bashar Assad would use his country's massive chemical weapon stockpiles against his people in an attempt to quell the ongoing civil war.
There are also concerns that al-Qaeda-linked rebels might obtain and use these weapons as Assad's regime continues to deteriorate.
"Crime against humanity'
Nonetheless, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Thursday that the United Nations will investigate the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, which would be "a crime against humanity."
The secretary-general said he was aware of "other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons" but did not make clear whether these would be part of the investigation.
France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said Wednesday that the Syrian National Coalition had alleged that there was a second chemical weapons attack on Tuesday in the Damascus area and it should be investigated as well.
Ban said he hopes the investigation "will contribute to ensuring the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria."
"My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity," the secretary-general said. "The international community needs full assurance that chemical weapons stockpiles are verifiably safeguarded."
Pro-Assad cleric killed
In the meantime, Syrian state TV said 42 people were killed and 84 others were wounded in a suicide bomb attack inside a mosque in Damascus that also killed a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of President Assad.
Thursday's death of Sheik Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti removes one of the few remaining pillars of support of the Alawite leader among the majority sect that has risen up against him.
The powerful explosion struck as al-Buti, an 84-year-old cleric and religious scholar who appeared often on TV, was giving a religious lesson in the Eman Mosque in the central Mazraa district of Damascus, according to state TV.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop