Concern for Syria prompts UN chemical guidelines

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By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — Responding to Syria's deepening crisis, the U.N.'s health agency rushed out new guidelines Tuesday for treating victims of chemical weapons attacks.

The World Health Organization, which has three staff members in the U.N.'s chemical inspection team in Syria, says the new guidelines are meant to help health workers treating victims of chemical warfare agents like those purportedly used in the Aug. 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

"We did rush this out ... given the interest and concern about what's been happening" in Syria, said spokesman Glenn Thomas. The guidelines will "evolve as we have a better understanding of the risks," he added.

U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters in Geneva that the inspection team might need longer than the planned 14 days to complete its work and its priority now is to determine what happened in the Aug. 21 attack. "This is the first priority," she said.

The U.N. team traveled to the western Damascus suburb Moadamiyeh on Monday to look one of the areas affected by the purported chemical attack, where they collected samples and testimony. Their convoy was attacked by snipers, destroying one of the vehicles, but members of the team were unharmed.

Thomas said new the guidelines improve on earlier information provided by WHO by including more specific information and a "work flow" for medical workers to follow in treating patients

The guidelines list signs and symptoms of exposure to chemical warfare agents: nerve agents such as tabun, sarin or VX, blister agents such as mustard gases and lewisite, cyanide and incapacitating agents such as agent BZ. It also covers exposure to riot control agents such as tear gas and other toxic chemicals including chlorine, phosgene and thallium.

Khawla Mattar, a spokeswoman for the U.N.'s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said he remains confident that a second Geneva peace conference to find a political settlement in Syria will be held to follow up on the June 2012 foreign ministers' conference, but that "it doesn't look like" it can be held before October.

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