The United Nations says that one of six vehicles carrying inspectors to the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus, Syria has been hit by sniper fire this morning. At this time, it's unclear if there were any injuries to the inspectors or who was responsible for the gunfire. The official UN spokesperson Twitter account posted an update describing the incident just before 7:00AM EST, about 2:00 local time, vowing to return to the area in a new vehicle. The UN spokesperson's office also issued the following statement on its website:
The first vehicle of the Chemical Weapons Investigation Team was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers in the buffer zone area.
As the car was no longer serviceable, the Team returned safely back to the Government check-point. The Team will return to the area after replacing the vehicle.
It has to be stressed again that all sides need to extend their cooperation so that the Team can safely carry out their important work.
The 20-member UN inspection team has been in Syria since August 18th and were supposed to have been protected by a temporary ceasefire agreement between the Syrian government and rebel forces, according to the BBC. The Syrian government has been accused by opposition groups and many international observers of launching several poison gas attacks on rebels last week, killing hundreds, but has steadfastly denied the claims, instead blaming rebels for the use of nerve gas. The series of incidents culminating in this morning's sniper fire marks a new escalation of the now two-and-a-half-year long conflict between the authoritarian government and rebel forces, which has claimed over 100,000 lives, according to estimates.
Update: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has released a statement saying the inspectors were able to return to the site and carry out part of their investigation, visiting two hospitals to interview witnesses and collect samples. Ban Ki-Moon also said he had registered a complaint with the Syrian government and opposition leaders over the sniper fire, "so that this will never happen and the safety and security of the investigation teams will be secured from tomorrow." A fuller investigation into the sniper fire is pending.