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Is the Syrian government to blame for chlorine gas attacks?

The US has accused the Assad regime of using chlorine against its own citizens, saying that no other party in the conflict has the means to deliver such weapons.

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    A man breathes through an oxygen mask on Thursday after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on a village in Syria.
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A "large majority" of UN Security Council members support a US effort to create a way to attribute blame for chlorine attacks in Syria and are ready to move quickly in the next few days, the council president said Thursday. But Syria ally Russia worries whether it will be objective, with the Russian ambassador saying, "They've done their attribution of blame already."

Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite told reporters after closed-door consultations that the US needs to work out the outstanding doubts and questions and all 15 members need to see the plan in writing.

The council met as Syrian activists and a doctor reported new suspected attacks that left several dozens of people suffering from asphyxiation.

The council has been unable to follow up on a resolution it passed last month that threatened action for such attacks because no one has a mandate to assign blame. Ms. Murmokaite said there has been an increase in alleged attacks since then.

Few details about the US plan emerged Thursday. A council diplomat on Wednesday said the proposed mechanism likely would answer to the council and allow experts access to look into attacks. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity without authorization to speak publicly.

A key question now is Russia, which has used its veto power as a permanent council member to block attempts to take action on the conflict, now in its fifth year.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who walked into Thursday's meeting telling reporters he had a "very good feeling" but no instructions yet from Moscow, walked out early and told The Associated Press that while his country was prepared to work on the plan, the effort has to be objective.

"So far, we have seen just a propaganda campaign over it on the basis of allegations which do not establish the perpetrators very clearly," he said. The question raised is a valid one, he said, "but let's see if there is a way to deal with it seriously."

The US and some other council members accuse Syria's government of using chlorine against its own citizens, saying that no other party in the conflict has the helicopters to deliver such weapons. Russia has insisted that more evidence is needed to blame anyone.

"I told my colleagues in the Security Council, 'Can you imagine that it was the terrorists who did it, then it would mean that while you were conducting this propaganda campaign, they were rubbing their hands gleefully because their provocations have succeeded,'" Mr. Churkin told the AP.

The US mission did not comment on Churkin's remarks.

Even though the council came together in 2013 to rid Syria of its chemical weapons program, chlorine was not included. The chemical does not have to be declared because it is also used for regular purposes in industry.

The global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, this year condemned the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law, but it has no mandate to blame anyone. The organization has said a team stands ready to visit Syria to investigate the recent alleged attacks as soon as the government gives approval.

The UN disarmament chief, Angela Kane, told reporters Thursday it is urgent that the fact-finding mission is able to go ahead and investigate both those reports and Syria's request to look into separate incidents in December. "I think it's in everyone's interest," she said.

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