Syria attack probe ends ahead of disarmament mission

DAMASCUS (AFP) - UN experts wrapped up their investigation of alleged gas attacks in Syria on Monday, as a chemical weapons disarmament team arrived in neighbouring Lebanon ahead of their trip to Damascus.

President Bashar al-Assad has insisted Syria will comply with a UN resolution under which his regime must turn over its chemical weapons for destruction.

The UN Security Council is to begin talks on Monday on a statement about the humanitarian crisis in Syria which could include a disputed call to allow cross-border missions, diplomats said.

On the ground in Syria, the violence continued, with regime forces launching air raids in the provinces of Homs and Aleppo, and a car bomb exploding in Damascus province.

The UN team of chemical weapons experts, which is on its second mission to Syria to investigate seven alleged attacks, left Syria on Monday afternoon, crossing into Lebanon.

The team has said it hopes to present a final report on the alleged attacks by late October.

Earlier this month it submitted an interim report that confirmed the use of the nerve agent sarin in an August 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

The United States threatened military action in response, accusing regime forces of deliberately killing hundreds of civilians with rocket-delivered nerve agents.

Syria denied the allegations but agreed to relinquish its chemical arsenal to head off a strike under a US-Russian deal which was enshrined in a landmark UN resolution.

The team of 20 inspectors from the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons overseeing the agreement arrived in Lebanon on Monday, a day before heading to Syria.

The road between Damascus airport and the Syrian capital is the scene of frequent fighting, so the inspectors will travel by road from Beirut instead.

"At this point, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the information provided by the Syrian regime," an OPCW official said on Sunday.

In his first comments since the UN resolution was passed on Friday, Mr Assad on Sunday told Italy's Rai News 24 his regime "will comply".

"Of course we will comply with it, and history proves that we have always honoured all treaties we have signed," state news agency SANA quoted him as saying.

Mr Assad also said warming relations between the United States and his regime's ally Iran could benefit Syria and the region, "so long as the United States is honest".

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