UK says it thinks Syria's Assad was behind chemical attack

LONDON Fri Aug 23, 2013 6:35pm IST

An activist wearing a gas mask stands next to a dead dog as he looks for dead bodies to collect samples to check for chemical weapon use, in Zamalka area, where activists say chemical weapons have been used by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the eastern suburbs of Damascus August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

An activist wearing a gas mask stands next to a dead dog as he looks for dead bodies to collect samples to check for chemical weapon use, in Zamalka area, where activists say chemical weapons have been used by forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in the eastern suburbs of Damascus August 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Bassam Khabieh

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Friday it believed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were responsible for a chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, saying it thought the Syrian government had "something to hide".

"I know that some people in the world would like to say that this is some kind of conspiracy brought about by the opposition in Syria," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "I think the chances of that are vanishingly small and so we do believe that this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime."

Stepping up calls for U.N. inspectors to be allowed access to the site of the reported attack, Hague said Britain would go back to the U.N. Security Council to seek a stronger mandate if inspectors were not granted access "within some days".

"Security council members expressed their support for the U.N. team to go there. They haven't yet been able to and already it seems the Assad regime has something to hide - why else have they not allowed the U.N. team to go there?

"The only possible explanation of what we've been able to see is a chemical attack ... there is no other plausible explanation for casualties so intense in such a small area on this scale."

The reported attack was "not something that a humane and civilised world" could ignore, he added, saying he planned to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Friday.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and William James; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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