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Disarmament experts make progress in Syria

Documents handed over by Damascus to inspectors preparing to destroy chemical arms stockpile "look promising", UN says.

Last Modified: 04 Oct 2013 12:50
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UN experts are on a mission in Damascus to catalogue the country's chemical weapons stockpiles [AFP]

International experts preparing to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal said they had made "encouraging" progress and expect to carry out on-site inspections within days.

The disarmament experts began their mission in Damascus to catalogue the country's stockpile under a deal that will see the chemical arms turned over for destruction by mid-2014.

On Thursday, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations said that documents handed over by the Syrian government to the inspectors "look promising".

"But further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered," the statement said.

 

The team said it hoped to begin on-site inspections and the initial disabling of equipment "within the next week".

The team faces a daunting task, as President Bashar al-Assad's regime is understood to have more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned weapons stored at dozens of sites.

Within a week, a second group of inspectors is scheduled to join them to form teams that will fan out to individual locations.

Their immediate aim is to disable production sites by late October or early November using "expedient methods" including explosives, sledgehammers and pouring concrete, an OPCW official said.

It is the first mission in the organisation's history to be undertaken in a country embroiled in a civil war.

It comes after the UN Security Council voted unanimously to secure and destroy the stockpile, a landmark decision aimed at taking poison gas off the battlefield in the escalating 30-months conflict.

A popular uprising that began in March 2011 in Syria has snowballed into a full-blown war that has claimed more than 115,000 lives, forced millions to flee, and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged towns and neighbourhoods.

Clashes raged on Thursday in the contested Damascus district of Barzeh between Assad troops and opposition forces who have been trying to capture the area for months.

Areas such as Barzeh, on the northern edge of the capital , are important for rebels based in the capital's outer suburbs as the fighters try to move closer to the heart of the city.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday demanded immediate and "unhindered" access to the trapped civilians, in a non-binding statement that diplomats said sends a strong signal to Damascus. 

Assad has, meanwhile, told Turkey it will pay a heavy price for backing rebels fighting to oust him, accusing it of harbouring "terrorists" along its border who would soon turn against their hosts.

In an interview with Turkey's Halk TV, Assad called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan "bigoted" and said Ankara was allowing terrorists to cross into Syria to attack the army and Syrian civilians.

"It is not possible to put terrorism in your pocket and use it as a card because it is like a scorpion which won't hesitate to sting you at the first opportunity," Assad said.

"In the near future, these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it."

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