Syria says agreement reached on UN chemical probe

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By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Talks between the Syrian government and a U.N. delegation tasked with investigating chemical weapons allegations in the nation's civil war have "resulted in an agreement on ways of moving forward," Syrian state media said Saturday.

President Bashar Assad's government invited a U.N. team to visit Damascus earlier this month after requesting that the international organization investigate an alleged chemical attack in Khan al-Assal, a village in the north. The Syrian regime and the rebels fighting to topple it accuse each other of using chemical agents in the March 19 incident.

Assad's government refused to have a possible inquiry include other alleged chemical attack sites in the central city of Homs, Damascus and elsewhere.

Earlier this week Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom and U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his deputy, Faisal Mekdad, in the Syrian capital.

A joint statement by the foreign ministry and the U.N. that appeared on Syria's official SANA news agency's website on Saturday said the meetings were "comprehensive and fruitful and resulted in an agreement on ways of moving forward."

It did not elaborate. The U.N. team couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Khan al-Assal, on the southwestern edge of the embattled city of Aleppo, was under government control in March. It was captured by the rebels on Monday after weeks of heavy fighting between government troops and opposition forces who took large swathes of territory in the north — including parts of Aleppo — in an offensive last summer.

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Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.

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