UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- UN inspectors have conducted "a wide range of fact-finding activities" at a site outside the Syrian capital of Damascus, where alleged chemical weapons attacks killed hundreds of people, a UN spokesman said here Saturday.
However, there could be no report on whether banned poison gas had been used until laboratory tests are completed, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said when briefing the press on a meeting between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs who just returned from Damascus.
Nesirky vehemently rejected suggestions that the departure of UN inspectors from Syria on Saturday somehow opened a window for U. S. military strikes.
"I have seen all kinds of reporting suggesting that the departure of the chemical weapons team somehow opens a window for military action of some kind," he said during the unusual Saturday meeting with reporters.
"Frankly, that's grotesque, and it's also an affront to the more than 1,000 staff, UN staff, who are on the ground in Syria delivering humanitarian aid and who will continue to deliver critical aid," he said.
"Of course, it would be only prudent to look at the composition of the team, that 1,000 plus, to see who is most critical to the work that is being done," the spokesman added, indicating a possible adjustment of the total number of staff in the war-torn country through the withdrawal of some international staff, at least.
Kane, who was sent to Syria to negotiate a UN probe into the alleged Aug. 21 chemical attack, told the UN chief on Saturday morning that "the (UN) Mission was able to conduct a wide range of fact-finding activities" in an alleged chemical attack site in the Damascus suburb, Nesirky said.
The UN inspectors have taken the samples to The Hague and will be moved to two laboratories in Europe, Nesirky said.
The UN fact-finding group, created by Ban in March at the request of the Syrian government, has a mandate to establish only whether chemical weapons were used, but not who used them.
The spokesman vowed that the UN inspectors will conduct " impartial and credible" assessments on whether chemical weapons were used in the Syrian conflict, which has been going on for 29 months.
Ban got reassurance from Kane that "whatever can be done to speed up the process (of analyzing evidence gathered in Syria) is being done" now that the UN chemical weapons team has returned to the Netherlands, he said.
When the UN experts completed their samples study, the UN chief would share the information with UN member states and the UN Security Council, he said.
Nesirky, however, refused to give a timeline when the chemical weapons team will complete its final report.
He said that would only come after all its interviews with alleged chemical attack victims and witnesses have been translated and results of laboratory tests on sample evidence completed, collated and evaluated.
He also refused to be drawn on whether Ban had asked Barack Obama to refrain from military action, saying repeatedly that, " The secretary-general has underscored the importance of the UN Charter" in recent conversations with the U.S. president.
The UN Charter says in Article 2 that, "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat of or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any other manner consistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
Ban also talked Saturday morning over the phone with Ake Sellstrom, a Swedish specialist who is head of the UN group of about 10 inspectors, shortly after they arrived in the Netherlands, said the spokesman.
Sellstrom would brief the secretary-general on the work of his team on Sunday, Nesirky said.
Less than 90 minutes after the briefing, Obama said at the White House that he has decided to take military action to punish the Syrian government but will first seek authorization from Congress, which is not due to return to town for more than a week.
The UN Security Council, the main body to authorize military action, has been divided over Syria, with Russia openly opposing the possible U.S. military strikes over the alleged use of chemical weapons in the nation's conflict.