Assad ready to give up chemical weapons

In TV interview, Syrian leader says Russian proposal, not threat of US intervention, influenced his decision.

    Syria has decided to cede control of its chemical weapons because of a Russian proposal and not the threat of US military intervention, Interfax news agency quotes President Bashar al-Assad as saying in a Russian television interview.

    Assad made the statement in an interview with Russian state TV which was televised on Thursday, as John Kerry, US secretary of state, landed in the Swiss city of Geneva to meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and discuss how UN can secure and destroy Assad's chemical weapons.

    "Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. The US threats did not influence the decision," Interfax quoted Assad as telling Russia's state-run Rossiya-24 channel.

    Assad also told Rossiya-24 that Syria would in the next few days submit documents to the UN for an agreement governing the handover of its chemical arsenal, state-run Russian news agency RIA reported on Thursday.

    The UN on Thursday confirmed it had recieved a document from Syria.

    "In the past few hours we have received a document from the government of Syria which is being translated," Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said.

    Assad said after the papers were submitted "work will start that will lead to the signing of the convention prohibiting chemical weapons".

    Rossiya-24 did not immediately air the interview and it was not clear when it was recorded.

    Syria, which denies it was behind an August 21 poison-gas attack in Damascus, has agreed to the US proposal that it give up its chemical weapons stocks, averting what would have been the first direct Western intervention in a war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

    Assad appeared to continue this denial by saying that countries that supplied chemical weapons to "terrorists" in Syria should held responsible. He also called for an "in-depth investigation" into the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

    Putin's op-ed

    For his part, Vladimir Putin has said the Russian initiative will not succeed unless the US abandons plans for potential air strikes to punish Assad for the chemical-weapons attack which US President Barack Obama blames on Syrian government forces.

    The Russian president directly appealed to the American people and to US politicians on Thursday by writing an article in the New York Times warning that a military strike could unleash a new wave of "terrorism".

    Qadri Jamil, Syria's deputy prime minister, went a step further on Thursday and said that the Russian proposal will only succeed if the US and its allies pledge not to attack Syria in the future.

    "We want a pledge that neither it [the US] nor anyone else will launch an aggression against Syria," Jamil told the Associated Press news agency in Damascus.

    Jamil was responding to a question on his expectations from Thursday's meeting between Kerry and Lavrov.

    Kerry and a team of US experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts in Geneva.

    They hope to emerge with an outline of how about 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.

    Rossiya 24 did not give any further details of the content of the interview, which it said would be broadcast in full "soon".

    While news of the Assad interview was released, Syria's main rebel commander Salim Idris, in a statement carried on pan-Arab satellite channel, called for regime officials to be put on trial.

    "We call upon the international community, not only to withdraw the chemical weapons, that were the tool of the crime, but to hold accountable those who committed the crime in front of the International Criminal Court," he said.

    Surge in clashes

    Idris said his Free Syrian Army "categorically rejects the Russian initiative" as falling short of the expectations of rebel fighters.

    Against this backdrop of diplomatic developments, violence has raged on in different parts of Syria.

    Syrian rebels reject Russian plan

    A surge of clashes in the country's oil-producing northeast has killed dozens of rebels and Kurdish fighters in the past two days, activists said on Thursday.

    Fighters from Syria's ethnic Kurdish minority - roughly 10 percent of the 23-million-strong population - have carved out an increasingly autonomous region near the frontiers with Iraq and Turkey.

    Elsewhere, air force jets bombed one of the main hospitals serving rebel-held territory in the north, according to activists and video footage.

    Eleven civilians, including two doctors, were killed in the strike against the hospital on Wednesday in the town of al-Bab, 30km northeast of Aleppo city, the opposition Aleppo Media Centre said on Thursday.

    Video footage posted on YouTube showed the limp body of a young child being carried out of the hospital by a man.

    The Aleppo Media Centre said that the emergency and radiology departments were destroyed in the attack.

    The government has not commented on the strike but state news agency SANA said on Thursday that the army had killed 14 "terrorists" - a term it uses for rebels - north of al-Bab in an operation on a convoy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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