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International experts to inspect attack site in Syria as U.S. ponders response

By Michelle Nichols and Ellen Francis

UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Russia and the United States tangled on Tuesday at the U.N. Security Council over Syria as they blocked attempts by each other to set up international investigations into chemical weapons attacks in the war-ravaged country.

    The United States and other Western powers are considering taking military action over a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on a rebel-held Syrian town that long had held out against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

    Russia vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution to create a new inquiry to ascertain blame for such attacks. The United States and other countries then blocked a rival Russian bid to set up a different probe that would require the Security Council to attribute responsibility.

Moscow opposes any Western strike on its close ally Assad. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Washington's decision to put forward its resolution could be a prelude to a Western strike on Syria.

    "The United States is again trying to mislead the international community and is making yet one more step toward confrontation," Nebenzia told the 15-member Security Council. "It is clear that the provocation step has nothing to do with a desire to investigate what happened."

    At least 60 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Saturday's suspected chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma, according to a Syrian relief group. Doctors and witnesses have said victims showed symptoms of poisoning, possibly by a nerve agent, and reported the smell of chlorine gas.

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the Security Council that adopting the U.S.-drafted resolution was the least that member nations could do.

    "History will record that, on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people," Haley said, referring to Assad.

    Twelve council members voted in favor of the U.S.-drafted resolution, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting no, and China abstained. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.

    U.S. President Donald Trump canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the attack was established.

    International chemical weapons experts will go Douma to investigate the suspected poison gas attack, their organization said on Tuesday, as the United States and other Western powers consider military action over the incident.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham)