MOSCOW, August 26 (RIA Novosti) – A convoy taking UN inspectors to the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital Damascus has suspended its work after coming under sniper fire, a UN spokesman said Monday.
Unidentified snipers hit the vehicle of the chemical weapons investigation team forcing them to suspend their inquiry. No injuries have been reported. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The team is replacing the vehicle,” and will return to the area later to continue their work, the UN spokesman said on Twitter.
The experts who started working in Damascus last Monday to verify the claims of recent chemical weapons use were "deliberately shot at multiple times," a UN spokesman added.
Speaking in a news conference on Monday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the attack took place while the UN team was in rebel-controlled territory, however the UN statement on the incident says that the vehicle was in the "buffer zone" at the time of the attack, i.e. was in territory controlled neither by the rebels nor by government forces.
The Syrian government agreed Sunday a timetable for UN inspectors to visit sites of alleged chemical weapons use, in a move dismissed by an American official as “too late to be credible.”
Both the Syrian government and rebel forces have accused each other of using chemical weapons in the conflict.
In the most recent incident, at least 355 people were killed in the eastern Ghouta district near the capital last Wednesday by what appeared to be neurotoxin poisoning, according to independent aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Syria held stocks of nerve agents including Sarin, Tabun and VX prior to the conflict, according to globalsecurity.org, quoting US intelligence agencies.
Damascus has not denied having such stocks but has insisted they would only be used against external aggression.
Updated with Russian Foreign Ministry quote, expanded reference to "buffer zone" from UN statement and clarification to lead