Syria inspections continue as war rages

UN inspectors visit three sites linked to chemical weapons, as activists say regime airstrikes hit northern cities.

    Syria inspections continue as war rages
    Activists say six were killed in the airstrike in Manbij, a town in the countryside of Aleppo province [Reuters]

    International inspectors in Syria have visited three of the 20 sites linked to the country's chemical weapons programme, as anti-government activist groups claim regime warplanes have hit several cities in their continuing campaign.

    The facilities inspected in the past 10 days have been in government-held areas, making them fairly easy to reach, said Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Thursday.

    At some point, the 27-member team may have to cross rebel-held territory to reach other sites that need to be inspected. The UN hopes to organise ceasefires between rebels and government forces to ensure safe passage for their teams.

    Shifting front lines crisscross the country, divided into a patchwork of rebel- and government-held areas.

    Operating on rare consensus, the UN has mandated the OPCW to rid Syria of its stockpile by mid-2014, the tightest deadline ever given to the OPCW, as well as the first conducted amid ongoing fighting.

    The UN Security Council met late on Thursday to discuss detailed recommendations made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on how to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

    French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud and his Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin said after the closed consultations that the 15 council members decided to authorise the plan proposed by Ban in a letter, not a resolution.

    In his 11-page letter to the council on Monday, Ban proposed that a joint mission be established by the UN and the OPCW, with a total staff of approximately 100 members, to carry out what he described as a dangerous and unprecedented operation.

    Violence continues

    As the inspectors go about their work, the violence in Syria's now 30-month-old civil war continues, with at least 28 people reported killed in three separate attacks.

    A government warplane struck the town of Safira on Thursday, killing at least 16 people, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which obtains its information through a network of activists on the ground. The group did not know what was hit by the strike.

    Safira is southeast of the heavily contested city of Aleppo. The military complex near the town is believed to include an underground facility for chemical weapons production and storage, said Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a US-based think-tank.

    Amateur video said to show the aftermath of the Safira airstrike was posted online later on Thursday. The video showed men and boys hauling a blanket filled with body parts onto a jeep where another two charred bodies already lay.

    "Who is this?" one man can be heard asking. "By God, we don't know brother," another responded. The video also showed twisted metal, blood splattered on the floor and smashed concrete in the area of the strike.

    The Observatory said six people were killed in another airstrike, near the town of Manbij, also in the area.

    In Aleppo, six people were killed by rebel fire, the official Syrian news agency SANA said.

    Clashes also broke out between al-Qaeda fighters from a group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Kurdish rebels in the northern border town of Azaz, the Observatory reported.

    Meanwhile, in Beirut on Thursday, scores of Syrians flew to Germany, where they were accepted for temporary resettlement.They were 106 of the 4,000 refugees that Germany has accepted to receive on two-year visas, said Roberta Russo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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