Syria hands over chemical arms to watchdog

2013-09-21 23:01
A Free Syrian Army soldier stands on a damaged Syrian military tank in front of a damaged mosque, which were destroyed during fighting with government forces, in the Syrian town of Azaz. (File, AP)

A Free Syrian Army soldier stands on a damaged Syrian military tank in front of a damaged mosque, which were destroyed during fighting with government forces, in the Syrian town of Azaz. (File, AP)

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Damascus - Syria has handed over complete data on its chemical arsenal to the world's watchdog, meeting a Saturday deadline to avert military strikes, as regime aircraft pounded targets across the country.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons said it was probing the Syrian information that was the focus of a US-Russian deal to head off strikes on Syria.

The disclosure comes as UN envoys struggled to agree on the wording of a resolution to enshrine the deal, which stipulates that Syria's chemical arsenal must be destroyed by mid-2014.

The "OPCW has confirmed that it has received the expected disclosure from the Syrian government regarding its chemical weapons programme", it said on Saturday.

"The Technical Secretariat is currently reviewing the information received."

International support

On Friday the OPCW said it had received initial data from Syria and was expecting more.

The US-Russian agreement, worked out after Washington threatened military action in response to a 21 August chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, requires Syria to hand over its entire chemical arsenal.

It has received widespread international support, including from China, whose Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would "support the early launch of the process to destroy Syria's chemical weapons".

Wang also called for the convening of a proposed peace conference in Geneva "as soon as possible".

But the international consensus on the plan has not carried over into negotiations on the wording of a UN Security Council resolution to back it up.

The Council's five permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US - have been wrangling over the text of the resolution since Monday.

Washington, Paris and London want a strongly worded resolution, possibly under the UN Charter's Chapter VII, which could allow the use of force or sanctions to ensure compliance.

Fighting

However Moscow, a key Damascus ally, opposes all references to the use of force.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone on Friday about a "strong" UN Security Council resolution on the deal.

"We talked about the co-operation which we both agreed to continue to provide, moving not only towards the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations," Kerry said.

"We will continue to work on that."

The chemical weapons disarmament deal has done little to slow fighting on the ground.

On Saturday, regime aircraft attacked targets nationwide, including in the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo and Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The watchdog, which relies on reports from activists and medics on the ground, gave no immediate details about the air raids or casualties.

But it said troops, backed by Alawite pro-regime militias, killed 15 people, including two women and a child, in the Sunni village of Sheikh Hadid in the central province of Hama late on Friday.

Iran

Syrian President Bashar Assad is from the Alawite religious minority and faces an uprising dominated by Sunnis.

The Observatory also said rival rebel groups exchanged prisoners under the terms of a deal to end fighting over the town of Azaz near the border with Turkey.

The truce deal between the mainstream Free Syrian Army and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) was brokered by a third brigade overseeing the ceasefire.

Tensions have spiralled between some mainstream rebel groups and Isis in recent months, especially in northern Syria, where the opposition controls vast swathes of territory.

The Syrian opposition National Coalition, meanwhile, rejected an offer from Iranian President Hassan Rowhani for Tehran to mediate between rebels and the regime.

"The Iranian initiative is not serious and lacks political credibility," the key opposition grouping said in a statement, pointing to Tehran's close ties to Assad's government.

French President Francois Hollande is to meet Rowhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week for talks on Syria and Iran's nuclear programme.

"What we want to see is an Iran fully engaged, like other players, in the search for a real political transition in Syria," an aide to Hollande said.

Rowhani, a moderate on Iran's political scene, has made several diplomatic overtures since his election in June, and there has been speculation that he could also meet US President Barack Obama at the UN next week.
Read more on:    un  |  syria  |  security  |  syria conflict

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