UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that investigators have been gathering and analyzing available information on alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but access to the war-torn country is needed for a "credible and comprehensive inquiry."
The issue of possible chemical attacks by President Bashar Assad's government has become a crucial factor that could lead to the United States and other western powers stepping up their involvement in the Syrian civil war.
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Ban created a UN inspection mission, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, in mid-March to investigate several claims of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, where more than 70,000 people have been killed in a two-year-old war.
But Syria has blocked unconditional and unfettered access by the UN mission, which has an advance team in Cyprus ready to deploy to Syria within 24 to 48 hours, and it is unlikely it will gain that type of access any time soon.
"On-site activities are essential if the United Nations is to be able to establish the facts and clear all the doubts surrounding this issue," Ban told reporters before meeting with Sellstrom at the United Nations in New York.
"A credible and comprehensible inquiry requires full access to the site where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used," Ban said. "I again urge Syrian authorities to allow the investigation to proceed without delay and without conditions."
Ban said that in the meantime, the investigators were gathering and analyzing available information on the alleged attacks, which included possible visits to countries that said they had evidence of chemical weapons use.
A Western diplomat said British officials had shown Sellstrom evidence on which London based its assertion that there was "limited but growing" evidence of chemical weapons use by Syrian authorities.
But Sellstrom found the evidence inconclusive, said the diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Syria denies using chemical weapons.
US President Barack Obama and his aides have also stressed the need for a comprehensive UN investigation on the ground in Syria.
US officials said on Thursday the intelligence community believes with varying degrees of confidence that Assad's forces used the nerve agent sarin on a small scale against rebel fighters.
"I take seriously the recent intelligence report of the United States about the use of chemical weapons in Syria," Ban said.
Syria had asked the United Nations only to investigate what it says was a rebel chemical attack near Aleppo in March. The opposition has blamed Assad's forces for that strike and also wants the UN team to look into other alleged chemical attacks by the government.
Western UN diplomats say allegations regarding the Aleppo incident and another attack in Homs in December are the most credible. Ban has repeatedly urged Syria to permit Sellstrom's team to inspect both locations.
'Weapons flow to Hezbollah'
Former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer alleged Monday that Syria's chemical weapons are "trickling" to Hezbollah, the first claim by a senior politician in Israel that one of the country's nightmare scenarios is coming true.
"The process of weapon transferal to Hezbollah has begun," Ben-Eliezer told The Associated Press. He refused to elaborate.
MK Ben-Eliezer (Labor) told Israel Radio that he "has no doubt" that Assad has already used chemical weapons and that that "these weapons are trickling to Hezbollah."
Ben-Eliezer said he is "amazed by the silence of the world" and that the international community needs to intervene to end the high civilian death toll in Syria's civil war.
He added Israel should consider action if there is no international intervention.
"I wouldn't rule out preparing a plan for Israel to act if the world continues to remain silent and the weapons continue to flow to Hezbollah. These are crazy people, terrorists who will not hesitate to use this tomorrow morning," he said.
Associated Press, Reuters contributed to this report
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