The United Nations said on Thursday it intends to probe claims of a chemical weapons strike in Syria, Reuters reported.
"I have decided to conduct a United Nations investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria," said U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon. The emphasis of the examination will be "the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government," he said.
There are conflicting reports from the government in Damascus and opposition elements about who is responsible for an alleged Tuesday chemical weapons attack involving a rocket spewing toxic gas in the village of Khan al-Assal in the Aleppo province. The Assad regime claims the strike resulted in 26 fatalities and more than 100 injuries.
Syrian rebels say two attacks actually occurred, in Aleppo and Damascus. France and the United Kingdom have called for looks into both claims, a move opposed by Assad ally Russia.
The United Nations will maintain the emphasis on the Aleppo report, Ban indicated. A spokesman said, though, the French and British request is being considered.
"I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons," Ban said.
"There is much work to do and this will not happen overnight, it is obviously a difficult mission," Ban added. "I intend for this investigation to start as soon as is practically possible."
The probe will involve the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
President Obama on Wednesday said the U.S. government was also probing whether a chemical arms attack occurred and that President Bashar Assad would be punished if the reports prove valid, Reuters reported.
"We have been clear that the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would be a serious and tragic mistake," the U.S. leader said in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists."
Fighting in the two-year civil war has already killed more than 70,000 people.
"We intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened," CNN quoted Obama as saying. Washington has indicated use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross its "red line" after which a Western military intervention becomes possible.
Israel has not yet confirmed that a chemical attack took place, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said. Israel has warned it would take military action to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring Syrian chemical warfare materials.
"We cannot allow" Lebanon-based Hezbollah to acquire such arms, Israeli President Shimon Peres said to journalists. "It could lead to an epic tragedy."
In a private Wednesday meeting with Obama, Netanyahu did not provide solid proof that a chemical strike had occurred, an anonymous U.S. official told the New York Times. However, two unidentified high-ranking Israeli officials said their government was certain toxic agents were used though it did not have information on the kind of weapon involved, its origin, the location from which it was fired, or whom did the firing.
"It is possible that chemical weapons were used or some concoction of chemical substances," a third anonymous Israeli official said, adding he had not "seen clear confirmation."
London on Wednesday said the alleged chemical attack boosts its argument for easing a European Union ruling against the export of weapons to Syrian rebels, Reuters reported. The United Kingdom favors arming the rebels.
The British government plans in short order to send Syrian opposition forces hundreds of units of chemical agent protection equipment and detection systems, the London Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.