UN experts arrive in The Netherlands after finishing gathering evidence of alleged gas attack in Damascus suburbs.
They have left Syria having completed four days of site visits and evidence-gathering.
The experts arrived in the Netherlands on Saturday afternoon, after travelling from Damascus to Beirut earlier in the day.
The inspectors are seeking to determine what exactly happened in an alleged chemical weapons strike that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.
The departure of the UN experts has heightened expectations of a possible international military strike against government forces.
UN officials say it may take weeks to analyze the samples gathered and to present conclusions, and UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that the inspectors would return to the country to investigate several other alleged chemical weapons attacks that have taken place during the country’s two-and-a-half year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Saturday’s pullout comes as Washington suggested that the UN investigation would have no bearing on its decision about whether to attack Syria in retaliation for the alleged poison gas attack on civilians.
Russia, diplomats said, was hoping to use the time needed to complete the UN probe to slow down the push for air strikes.
“The samples that have been collected will be taken to be analyzed in designated laboratories, and the intention of course is to expedite the analysis of that sampling that’s been taken,” Martin Nesirky said.
He offered no timeline for when that analysis would be completed, but said all samples would need to be fully analyzed.
“This is not an electoral process, where you have exit polls and preliminary results,” he said.
“This is a scientific process. The only result that counts is the result of the analysis in laboratories and the analysis of the evidence that’s been collected through witness statements and so on.”
Martin Nesirky was addressing reporters while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was meeting with delegates from the five permanent UN Security Council members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – to update them on the UN investigation in Syria.
Two diplomats told the Reuters news agency that Ban Ki-moon informed the five delegations that analysis of the samples could take up to two weeks.
Ban Ki-moon cut short a visit to Europe amid concerns that Western powers are preparing military strikes against Syria to punish the government of Bashar al-Assad for the alleged chemical attack.
Angela Kane, the UN disarmament envoy who had visited Syria with the UN experts, left Damascus on Friday and was expected to brief Ban Ki-moon in New York later on Saturday.
France said on Friday it still backed military action to punish Bashar al-Assad’s government, and Washington pushed ahead with plans for a response despite a British parliamentary vote against a military strike.
An unclassified report by US intelligence agencies released on Friday said the attack killed 1,429 Syrian civilians, including 426 children.