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EU backs claims that Syria was responsible for chemical attacks

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US Secretary of State John Kerry greets European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton after arriving for an informal meeting of EU ministers for Foreign Affairs at the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania

US Secretary of State John Kerry greets European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton after arriving for an informal meeting of EU ministers for Foreign Affairs at the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania

AP

US Secretary of State John Kerry greets European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton after arriving for an informal meeting of EU ministers for Foreign Affairs at the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, Lithuania

EU OFFICIALS have agreed that the August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus appears to have been the work of Syria's regime.

But they warned that any potential military attack against it should wait for the UN inspectors' report.

EU high representative Catherine Ashton and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius were speaking today after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Lithuania that included Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

France had already said it would wait for the UN inspectors' report before deciding to intervene militarily, even though it said the report would only show a chemical attack had taken place, not apportion blame.

Addressing the joint EU position, Fabius said: "It is said that all indications converge toward the fact that the regime is responsible."

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the statement after meeting the foreign ministers in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

"We are very grateful for the statement that came out of the meeting today with respect to Syria - a strong statement about the need for accountability," Kerry said.

After meeting with US secretary of state John Kerry, the EU ministers ended days of division on the issue with a common statement that the available intelligence "seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for the attack," Baroness Ashton said.

The EU nations, most of which have been sceptical on a quick retaliatory strike against the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, underscored "the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process," Lady Ashton said.

She hoped a "preliminary report of this first (UN) investigation can be released as soon as possible."

Germany joined in blaming the attack on the Syrian government. It had been the only European member of the G20 not to co-sign a joint statement issued Friday at the end of the G20 meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, blaming the government.

That statement calls for a strong international response against Assad's regime but stops short of explicitly calling for military action against the Syrian government.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said today in Vilnius that it wanted to wait for EU foreign ministers to agree on a common position before backing the statement.

Kerry said he would share his counterparts' concern with Obama administration officials. A senior State Department official who attended Kerry's meeting with the ministers said Kerry made clear that the US has not made any decision to wait.

The US blames Assad's regime for the attack in the Damascus suburbs and, citing intelligence reports, says sarin gas was used. The US says 1,429 people died, including 426 children.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists, says it has so far only been able to confirm 502 dead.

PA Media