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WASHINGTON Aug 21 The White House expressed
alarm on Wednesday about reports of a massive deadly chemical
weapons attack by Syrian government forces and called urgently
for a United Nations investigation into the incident.
Syria's opposition accused President Bashar al-Assad's
loyalists of gassing many hundreds of people - as many as 1,300
according to on report - in what would, if confirmed, be the
world's worst chemical weapons attack in decades.
While the White House stopped short of providing
confirmation of Wednesday's attack, saying it was working to
gather additional information, it demanded that the Syrian
government allow a U.N. team already in the country "immediate
and unfettered access" to the location of the alleged attack
The White House announced on June 13 that it would send
military aid to Syrian rebels, saying Assad's government had
crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons. But Obama has
taken a cautious approach on Syria's 2-1/2-year-old civil war,
showing little appetite for deeper U.S. intervention.
However, confirmation of Wednesday's attack could increase
pressure on the Obama administration.
"The United States is deeply concerned by reports that
hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by
Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical
weapons, near Damascus earlier today," White House spokesman
Josh Earnest said in a statement.
"We are formally requesting that the United Nations urgently
investigate this new allegation. The U.N. investigative team,
which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is
consistent with its purpose and mandate," he said.
Earnest said that "if the Syrian government has nothing to
hide," it would facilitate the work of the U.N. inspectors.
"They must have immediate access to witnesses and affected
individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect
physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from
the Syrian government," he said.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said the allegations
were "illogical and fabricated." Assad's officials have said
they would never use poison gas against Syrians. The United
States and European allies believe Assad's forces have used
small amounts of sarin gas in attacks in the past.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason; Editing by Vicki
Allen and David Brunnstrom)