UK demands Syria attack site access
Britain has formally called for chemical weapons inspectors to be given urgent access to the site of a deadly toxic agent attack in Syria that is claimed to have left more than 1,300 dead.
The UK is among 37 countries that have written to the United Nations secretary general (Ban Ki-moon) to call for access to the site on the outskirts of Damascus following the 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 including children has circulated widely on the internet.
Bashar Assad's government denied the claims as "baseless" as a UN inspection team was beginning work assessing previous claims of chemical weapons use.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK along with 36 other countries has written to the secretary general formally referring this incident to the UN and calling for the UN team to be granted the necessary access to enable their investigation into these latest allegations as a matter of urgency."
It follows a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday that failed to agree on a firmly worded call on Syria during two hours of talks. The council did back "a thorough, impartial and prompt investigation" into the allegations. Russia, which has supported the regime and vetoed past attempts to secure a tough UN resolution, suggested the attack could be a "premeditated provocation" by opposition forces.
Foreign Secretary William Hague urged international supporters of the Syrian regime to "wake up to... its murderous and barbaric nature". "I hope this will wake up some who have supported the Assad regime, to realise its murderous and barbaric nature."
A team of UN inspectors was only recently granted access to Syria to investigate previous alleged chemical attacks. It arrived in Syria on Sunday but needs permission to extend its work beyond the sites it is looking at.
Unverified footage of casualties, including children, in makeshift hospitals suffering convulsions and breathing difficulties has circulated on YouTube. Accounts of the death toll vary wildly from around 100 deaths to the claim by the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, that 1,300 were killed. The group said it was basing its claim on accounts and photographs by activists on the ground.
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.