Chemical weapons disarmament team arrives in Syria

Oct. 1, 2013 at 8:39 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- A team of disarmament experts arrived in Syria Tuesday to begin work on dismantling the country's chemical weapons stockpile.

The advance team of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors were in Damascus to begin talks with Syrian officials on how to carry out their task, The New York Times reported.

It is the first time the OPCW has been asked to destroy a country's chemical arms during a war, the BBC reported. Peaceful, anti-government protests in March 2011 devolved into a civil war in which more than 100,000 people have died.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said seven of the 19 chemical weapons sites declared recently by the government are in combat zones.

Local truces may be needed for the OPCW inspectors to gain access to the weapons sites, the BBC said.

The inspectors first will discuss operation logistics at the Syrian Foreign Ministry before verifying the sites and making assessments, the BBC said. They then are expected to destroy the equipment used for mixing and preparing chemical weapons, and the munitions used to deliver them.

A U.N. team of chemical weapons inspectors has been investigating allegations of chemical weapons attacks by government forces and rebel fighters, including an Aug. 21 attack in Damascus suburbs that the United States estimated killed 1,400 and triggered a threat of an international response against Assad's forces.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council passed a binding resolution to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons by mid-2014.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said his country would cooperate with the plan to destroy its chemical arms.

Assad told Italy's RAI News 24, "Of course we have to comply. This is our history. We have to comply with every treaty we sign."

At the United Nations, meanwhile, Muallem told the General Assembly terrorists from dozens of countries were killing Syrian soldiers and civilians, the BBC said.

Muallem compared the actions of "terrorists from more than 83 countries" to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States during his speech Tuesday.

In an interview with the BBC, Muallem said peace talks were vital for his country's future, but that the proposed talks in Geneva, Switzerland, "cannot succeed" while Turks, Saudis and Qataris assist the rebels seeking the ouster of Assad.

In Ankara, the Turkish government submitted language that would authorize the use of force against Syria by extending an existing motion for one year, Today's Zaman reported Tuesday.

The Turkish Parliament endorsed the use-of-force motion last year after a Syrian mortar shell hit the border town of Akcakale, killing five Turkish citizens.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the renewal of the motion will be the main agenda item for lawmakers when they return from summer recess Tuesday.

Speaking to the General Assembly, Muallem accused "well-known" countries of backing "terrorists" -- the term the government uses for the rebels -- fighting the Syrian government and of threatening "blatant military aggression outside the mandate of the Security Council." He also dismissed the idea of moderate rebels in Syria.

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency warned that the number of Syrian refugees flooding neighboring countries threatens the political and social unity of the entire region, the BBC said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees leader Antonio Guterres said during a meeting in Geneva that the "burden is far too heavy to be borne by only the neighboring countries."

Guterres said the international community should enact more robust measures to share the cost of sheltering "an unrelenting flood of Syrian refugees."

The number of refugees may hit 350,000 by the end of 2013, he said.

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