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 as he arrived in Paris for talks with his French counterpart. "I hope all members of the Security Council will join us," he said. "I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime, to realise its murderous and barbaric nature."
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". Earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron backed Washington's "candid assessment'" that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons.
Syria is thought to have some of the world's largest stocks of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin, but the government in Damascus refuses to confirm this is the case.