Syria meets deadline to destroy chemical production facilities

BEIRUT Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:19pm EDT

United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), leave their hotel in Damascus October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), leave their hotel in Damascus October 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria has destroyed or rendered inoperable all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament program, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace prize this month, said its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The remaining two were too dangerous to reach for inspection but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites that experts had visited, it said.

Syria "has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable," it said, meeting a November 1 deadline for the work.

The next target date is November 15, by when the OPCW and Syria must agree to a detailed plan of destruction, including how and where to destroy more than 1,000 metric tonnes of toxic agents and munitions.

Under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States, Damascus agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to the killing of hundreds of people in a sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

It was the world's deadliest chemical weapons incident since Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces used poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja 25 years ago.

The United States and its allies blamed the forces of President Bashar al-Assad for the attack and several earlier incidents. Assad has rejected the charge, blaming rebel brigades.

"This was a major milestone in the effort to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program," Ralf Trapp, an independent chemical weapons disarmament specialist, said.

"Most of the sites and facilities declared by Syria to the OPCW have been inspected, their inventories verified, equipment for chemical weapons production disabled and put beyond use, and some of the unfilled weapons have also been disabled."

Assad still has a substantial conventional arsenal. Israel declined comment on Thursday on reports its warplanes had struck a military base where Syrian opposition sources said his forces had stored powerful, Russian-made missiles.

WORKING IN WAR

The OPCW mission is being undertaken in the midst of Syria's 2-1/2 year civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people. There had been concerns that the violence would impede the disarmament, but the OPCW says Syrian authorities have been cooperating with the weapons experts.

At one location it could not visit, the OPCW said it was able to verify destruction work remotely, while Syrian forces had abandoned the two sites it could not inspect at all.

Syrian authorities said that "the chemical weapons program items removed from these sites were moved to other declared sites", an OPCW document said. "These sites holding items from abandoned facilities were inspected."

Trapp said it was "important to ensure that the remaining facilities can be inspected and their equipment and weapons inventoried and prepared for destruction as soon as possible".

Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at the U.S. Monterey Institute, cautioned that the work achieved so far had been relatively easy compared with the next stage, which will involve transporting and eliminating warfare agents.

The OPCW also remained reliant on goodwill from Damascus, said Smithson, noting that Saddam and late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had tried to pull the wool over inspectors' eyes in the past.

"What is unknown at present is whether Assad has declared everything in his arsenal - remember, Gaddafi kept a stash and Saddam tried his best to do the same but was outmaneuvered by savvy, determined inspectors - and to what extent Syrian cooperation will continue," she said.

Under the disarmament timetable, Syria was due to render unusable all production and chemical weapons filling facilities by November 1. By the middle of next year it must have destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.

The OPCW has not said which locations it had been unable to inspect, but a source briefed on their operations said one was at Safira, southeast of Aleppo in the north of the country. The site itself remains under government control but has been emptied of equipment because of fighting nearby.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence in Syria, said forces loyal to Assad advanced towards Safira on Thursday and clashed with rebels on its eastern approaches.

The other site not inspected was at Tel Kurdi in Adra, northeast of the capital Damascus. Tel Kurdi is now under rebel control but has been empty since early 2013 when the equipment was moved to another site, the source said.

The site which was inspected remotely was Al Sukkar, also in Adra, which contained instruments, ammunition and other substances which were destroyed by Syrian officials. The OPCW monitored this operation by video because the site, although under government control, was dangerous to reach.

(Additional Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Will Waterman and David Stamp)

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Comments (44)
Arnleif wrote:
Did you get that that Obama and Cameroon?

Of course you did, not to imply that the US and UK did not knew in 2003 that Iraq had disarmed it`s WMD. Not to imply the US and UK did not knew that Iraq was totally defenseless after a decade of continuous bombing, as the UN poured out reports on a Iraq society that was on the brink of collapse from starvation forced upon it by the exactly US and UK. And not that any sane person still actually believes the propaganda and lies from Bush and Blair, that repeatedly stated that Iraq`s Saddam was about to launch an assault on the world with his massive WMD arsenal? The new Hitler, like they have repeatedly described Saddam and now with Syria`s Bashar al-Assad.

If there was any real justice in this world, at least the UN should demand public and written statements from the US and UK. A confirmation that goes along as Syria dismantles their WMD. Something that makes it impossible for these countries governments to abuse the situation in Syria. That is how any sane and rational person would handle it to avoid another warcrime like the Iraq war.

And even if one did that, it still would be an insult to international law in terms of lack of reaction against countries violating the UN charter and the Geneva convention that defines very clearly what a war of aggression is, and what the consequences should be.

Oct 31, 2013 4:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
justinoinroma wrote:
Obama….erra no comment

Oct 31, 2013 4:57am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ItsMyOpinion2 wrote:
And Assad still goes on killing hundreds daily with impunity.

Oct 31, 2013 5:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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