Middle East

Israel cautious over Syria weapons deal

Israeli PM says US-Russia deal will be judged on whether it achieves the complete destruction of Syria's chemical arms.

Last Modified: 15 Sep 2013 13:03
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The US says the Syrian regime killed 1,400 people in a poison-gas attack in eastern Damascus on August 21 [AFP]

The Israeli prime minister has said he hoped the US-Russian brokered deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons would result in the "complete destruction" of the arsenal and push the world to stop Iran from nuclear weapons armament.

Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before a planned meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, who has arrived in Israel to brief him on the accord he reached with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday in Geneva.

"We hope the understandings reached between the United States and Russia regarding the Syrian chemical weapons will yield results," he said.

"These understandings will be judged by their result - the complete destruction of all of the chemical weapons stockpiles that the Syrian regime has used against its own people," he said.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu, said the deal had "disadvantages and advantages".

"On the one hand, it lacks the necessary speed [in removing chemical arms from Syria]. On the other hand, it is much more comprehensive, as it includes a Syrian commitment to dismantle the manufacturing facilities and to never again produce [chemical weapons]," Steinitz told Army Radio.

Also on Army Radio, Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said intelligence that Israel has gathered on neighbouring Syria could help verify President Bashar al-Assad's compliance with the accord.

"We will understand Assad's intentions only in a week when he is meant to hand over a full list of all the chemical weapons at his disposal, and I think Israel has a not bad idea of what chemical weapons he has," Lieberman said.

Israel's President Shimon Peres said the possibility of US military action if the plan fails should "teach a lesson" to Iran.

One-week deadline

The Syrian minister of state for national reconciliation Ali Haidar on Sunday called the deal a "victory for Syria".

The framework document agreed upon stipulates that Syria must provide full details of its stockpile within a week and its chemical arsenal must then be eliminated by mid-2014.

Only a few days ago, Syria was denying having chemical weapons and having used them. From now on we are in a new phase.

Laurent Fabius, French FM

If Syria fails to comply, the deal could be enforced by a United Nations resolution with the use of force as a last resort.

However, President Barack Obama stressed on Saturday that if the government of Assad does not live up to the deal Washington reached with Moscow, "the United States remains prepared to act".

The US-Russia deal was welcomed by China on Sunday.

"The Chinese side welcomes the framework agreement between the US and Russia. This agreement [to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons] will enable tensions in Syria to be eased," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a meeting with his visiting French counterpart Laurent Fabius.

It was the first official reaction by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, to the deal reached.

Fabius, who arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning and was due to head back to Paris later the same day, called the pact "a significant step forward".

"Only a few days ago, Syria was denying having chemical weapons and having used them. From now on we are in a new phase," he said.

But while the plan was an important advance, it was "only a first stage", he told reporters.

Carrot and stick

Fabius is due to host Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Paris on Monday.

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

The Geneva deal will form the basis of a UN resolution to be agreed within a week, he said, but its enforcement would have to be monitored "extremely closely".

The pact came after Washington led calls for military action in response to an August 21 chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus blamed by the US - which says more than 1,400 people were killed - and others on the Syrian

Damascus denies responsibility and has blamed rebel forces for the incident.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - who has accused Assad of "many crimes against humanity" - is due to issue a report on the incident on Monday.

More than 110,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the two-and-a-half year conflict, and rebel representatives have rejected the US-Russian deal, fearing it eliminates any chance of Western military intervention on their side.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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