UNITED NATIONS - Syria's deputy prime minister said Monday that the United States, France and Great Britain had blocked a UN inspections team from finding out whether deadly nerve gas was used in the country's civil war and the group behind possible chemical attacks.
Walid al-Moualem also accused the countries that back the Syrian opposition of hypocrisy in supporting an opposition that has within it elements of al-Qaida.
"We are the ones who were targeted by poisonous gases in Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo," he told the General Assembly Monday. "We have asked for an investigation mission, and demanded to include in its mandate the ability to determine who used chemical weapons. However, the United States and its allies, France and United Kingdom, are the ones who prevented that, and insisted, then, to limit the functions of the mission to only decide whether chemical weapons were used or not."
President Barack Obama told the General Assembly last week that there was no disputing the regime of President Bashar Assad used the weapons to target enemy forces in August.
And Secretary of State John Kerry said during congressional hearings in September that the most radical elements of the opposition forces represented only a small portion.
Moualem spoke as the inspections team headed by UN investigator Ake Sellstrom left Syria after a final six-day trip to gather information from several sites, which did not include Khan al-Assal. It was there, Syrian officials have said, that chemical weapons were used by the opposition in March.
In a briefing after Moualem's speech, a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon countered the Syrian diplomat's accusation that inspectors were blocked from getting information about chemical attacks. The UN previously has said that the inspection team's mandate was limited to determining whether the weapons were used as part of a well-established protocol employed effectively in other conflicts. It was up to UN member states and not the UN itself to determine who was behind the attacks.
"The secretary-general made it clear that he believed that it was the correct path to take," said the spokesman, Martin Nesirky. "He continues to believe that."
Moualem said his country's conflict with the rebels is similar to what the U.S. experienced after the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Sept, 11, 2001, he said, New Yorkers "were burned with the fire of extremism and bloodshed, the same way we are suffering now in Syria."
Moualem portrayed the rebels, including foreign fighters drawn to the struggle, as barbaric extremists who "dismember human bodies into pieces while still alive and send their limbs to their families, just because those citizens are defending a unified Syria."