UN weapons inspectors left Syria early. The majority of the team, including interpreters and translators, left the country on Friday, and the remainder was scheduled to leave on Saturday at 7 am.
However, the core group instead left at 4 am on Friday, an odd time to travel given the dangerous route they were expected to take. The inspectors are expected to take a road to Beirut that is known for its dangers.
The cause for the departure change wasn’t known, though it appeared to be a last-minute decision, reports CBS News. Some analysts suggested it could be related to a potential US military strike.
As inspectors began their final day in Syria, anxiety was palpable in Damascus over the possible military strike by the United States, along with the possibility of more chemical weapons being used.
The UN inspection team, including a team of 20 scientists and other workers, left their hotel in Damascus hoping to revisit the suburbs where an alleged chemical weapons attack happened on August 21. It would have been their fourth visit to the area this week. However, they turned back just minutes later.
NBC News notes that the UN inspectors’ departure from Syria was seen by many in the country as the deadline for when the government would return to all-our shelling on rebel-held positions. Some shelling has continued during the inspectors’ visit. But both sides have seen the UN team’s visit as an unofficial cease-fire.
One of the group’s final stops before leaving was to a Syrian army hospital to interview soldiers. The government claimed that the soldiers were victims of the poison gas attack.The UN team will now take the samples they collected to laboratories in the Netherlands and put a report together about the attack.
While there have been several reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria this year, the one earlier this month was the worst. According to the White House, the incident killed 1,429 civilians, 426 of which were children. It is not clear if the US will wait on the UN inspectors’ report about Syria before retaliating.
[Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D. via Wikimedia Commons]