Russia to guard destruction of chemical arms

2013-09-26 20:42

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Damascus - Russia offered on Thursday to provide troops to guard facilities where Syria's chemical weapons would be destroyed, as UN inspectors prepared to continue their probe on the use of such agents in the country's civil war.

Also on Thursday, a mortar shell slammed into the Iraqi consulate building in central Damascus, killing one person and wounding three, Syrian state media reported.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia is ready to ensure security and help guard facilities, once the chemical weapons are stored for destruction in Syria.

He spoke just hours after another Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, told The Associated Press that the UN Security Council is just two days away from agreeing on a resolution that would require Damascus to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles.

Gatilov said the resolution will include a reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for military and nonmilitary action in the interest of peace.

The US and Russia have been at odds on how to enforce the resolution after brokering a join agreement earlier this month on the eventual destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

By agreeing to the accord, Syrian President Bashar Assad's government had narrowly escaped a punitive American strike over an August chemical weapons attack.

Meanwhile, a team of UN inspectors was back in Syria to investigate three alleged incidents of chemical weapons use earlier this year.

They will also seek information on three other attacks last month that allegedly included chemical agents.

The inspectors were seen leaving their Damascus hotel in a vehicle convoy on Thursday afternoon, but there was no immediate indication where they were going.

The UN inspectors first came to Damascus last month to probe a 19 March attack and two other incidents in the north when an alleged chemical attack occurred outside the Syrian capital. They returned to Syria on Wednesday.

The 21 August incident in the eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus became their focus after the United States and its allies said Assad's troops were responsible for the chemical attack that killed hundreds.

The US threatened punitive strikes; Assad's government denied the allegations and said the rebels were behind the Ghouta attack.

Ryabkov spoke to Russian news agencies during an arms exhibition in Nizhny Tagil. He said he hoped other members of a Moscow-led military alliance of former Soviet republics, known as Collective Security Treaty Organization, would also participate in guarding the Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

Along with Russia, the group includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said the inspectors will visit the site of the 19 March incident, the village of Khan al-Assal near the city of Aleppo, and two other sites in Saraqeb and Sheik Mahsood.

The mission will also discuss with the Syrian government "information that it may possess regarding allegations it reported on the use of chemical weapons" in incidents on 22 August, 24 August and 25 August, Nesirky said on Wednesday.

The attack on the Iraqi consulate came a day after Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned Western nations that support the Syrian opposition not to send military aid to the rebels for fear it could assist jihadi groups. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Rebels fighting to topple Assad often fire mortar rounds into the Syrian capital, targeting state institutions, military installations and diplomatic missions of countries that have supported his regime. Syria's civil war has so far killed more than 100 000 people.

According to Syria state news agency SANA, an Iraqi woman was killed and three others were wounded when a mortar shell struck the building that houses the consulate in the upscale Abu Roumanneh district of Damascus.

The shell hit the consulate's hallway in which people were waiting to process their documents or visas, SANA said.

On Sunday, a mortar round landed inside the Russian Embassy compound in Damascus. That attack coincided with Moscow's announcement that it was willing to send military observers to Syria as it prepares to surrender its chemical weapons to international control.

Russia is one of Assad's closest allies.

Iraq says it has not taken any side in Syria's conflict, now in its third year. Members of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government have repeatedly warned that Sunni extremists might dominate ruling structures in Damascus if Assad's regime falls.

Read more on:    russia  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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