At the same time, it remains unclear whether the U.N. team actually will be allowed to go to Ghouta because there was no agreement on a date and time for the visit, he said.
“The fact is that we don’t have a time and date for a place that’s 10-minute drive away” from the hotel where the U.N. officials are staying, said Shaikh. “I’m sure if there was real urgency, it could be done today or tomorrow.”
Chemical weapons policy expert Jean Pascal Zanders warned that any legitimate investigation would not be quick and should be entirely private until finished.
He noted that beyond getting experts on the ground, investigators would have to collect samples from soil, ammunition fragments and even from victims. After collection, the samples would have to be transported and studied in certified laboratories in three different nations.
In considering the nature of the Syrian attacks, he wrote on his website, The Trench, which is dedicated to chemical weapons studies, the investigation could be slow.
“The exact nature of the agent or agents is impossible to determine from the pictures or film footage,” Zanders wrote.
If confirmed, the Aug. 22 attack in Ghouta would be the biggest chemical weapons incident so far. The administration previously had assessed that the regime had used such arms only on a much smaller scale, and did not respond forcefully.
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The number of dead at Ghouta is still undetermined. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally considered the most authoritative chronicler of casualties in the war-torn country, said it had confirmed that at least 322 people had died in the attacks, including at least 90 rebel fighters, 86 women and 54 children. Director Rami Abdul-Rahman said he was still reviewing hundreds of names and expected the final tally to be much higher.