Russia urged Syria's government to cooperate with U.N. experts investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons by government troops Friday, as the White House weighed its response.
Moscow and Washington agree an objective inquiry is needed into the allegations that up to 1,200 civilians were killed, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
"The Russian side called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the U.N. chemical experts. It is now up to the opposition, which should guarantee safe access for the mission to the alleged place of the incident," the ministry said.
Russia has been a key ally of the Syria’s President Bashar Assad, and its stance underlines the extent of international concern.
Rebel fighters and activists released footage of the aftermath of the attacks showing children choking and vomiting and adults writhing in agony.
U.S. State Department officials and intelligence agencies met at the White House for three hours on Thursday to discuss how to respond to the alleged gas attacks.
However, the Obama administration has not discussed plans to intervene or to enforce a no fly zone over the country.
“The President has directed the intelligence community to gather facts and evidence so that we can determine what occurred in Syria,” a senior Obama administration official told NBC News.
“We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we're making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria,” the official added.
It came as more evidence emerged of the Wednesday’s attack, with witnesses saying some of the victims died in the upper floors of buildings as they tried to escape the gas.
"People started hearing from the mosques that they have to go to upper floors in the building [to escape the gas]," a man in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka told NBC News’ U.K. partner, ITV News.
"So those people died while they were trying to go up. Today we found them here."
"We found more than 40 bodies in other houses today."
Russia, which has protected Assad from three consecutive U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring him to end violence, said earlier this week that the alleged chemical attack, which killed hundreds of people, may have been a "provocation" by rebels meant to put the blame on Assad.
Syrian officials have called allegations against their forces "illogical and fabricated."
Arab League-United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi believes that the alleged chemical weapon attack in Syria this week should speed up work towards an international peace conference, his spokeswoman said on Friday, according to Reuters.
"He thinks that the recent escalation and grave (event) that happened in Syria, in Damascus close to the capital, should put an urgency to Geneva 2, to move forward on the political (talks) and should prove to the world that there is no military solution," Khawla Mattar told a news briefing in Geneva.
Meanwhile, the two-year civil war reached “a shameful milestone” Friday when the United Nations told NBC News’ Ann Curry that one million Syrian children had become refugees – 75 per cent of them under the age of 11.
Speaking from Geneva via Skype, High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in addition to the one million who have fled, another two million children inside Syria are displaced or threatened by war.
Reuters contributed to this report.
First published August 23 2013, 6:58 AM