Syria hands watchdog details of poison agents programme

Syrian television last week recorded OPCW inspectors at work at an undisclosed location in Syria, where 14 sites have been checked. Picture: Getty
Syrian television last week recorded OPCW inspectors at work at an undisclosed location in Syria, where 14 sites have been checked. Picture: Getty
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Syria has filed details of its poison gas and nerve agent programme and an initial plan to destroy it to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the organisation announced yesterday.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that Syria completed its declaration as part of a strict and ambitious timeline that aims to eliminate the lethal stockpile by mid-2014.

The group, based in The Hague, said Syria made the declaration on Thursday.

The announcement provides “the basis on which plans are devised for a systematic, total and verified destruction of declared chemical weapons and production facilities,” the group said.

Such declarations made to the organisation are confidential and no details of Syria’s programme were released.

Syria already had given preliminary details to the OPCW when it said it was joining the organisation in September.

The move warded off possible US military strikes in the aftermath of an 21 August chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb. Syria denies responsibility for the deadly attack.

OPCW inspectors were hastily dispatched to Syria this month and have visited most of the 23 sites Damascus declared. They have also begun overseeing destruction work to ensure that machines used to mix chemicals and fill munitions with poisons are no longer functioning.

Syria is believed to possess about 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin.

Syria’s declaration includes a general plan for destruction that will be considered by the OPCW’s 41-nation executive council on 15 November.

Norway’s foreign minister announced on Friday that the country had turned down a US request to receive the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons for destruction because it does not have the capabilities to complete the task by the deadlines given.

The announcement came among renewed fighting in Syria. In the Christian town of Sadad north of Damascus, where al-Qaeda-linked rebels and soldiers are fighting for control, a rocket smashed into a home and killed five members of a family, activists said. At least three women were among the dead, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

Mr Abdurrahman said the rocket strike occurred overnight Friday. The Observatory obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

He says residents are trapped in their homes in the western neighbourhoods of Sadad, which rebels have controlled since taking a checkpoint last week.

The rebels appear to have targeted Sadad because of its strategic location near the main highway north from Damascus rather than because it is inhabited primarily by Christians. But extremists among the rebels are hostile to Syria’s Christians minority, which has largely backed president Bashar al-Assad during the conflict.

Also yesterday, Syrian Kurdish gunmen clashed with al-Qaeda-linked groups to cement their control of a major border crossing with Iraq. The Kurdish militiamen captured the Yaaroubiyeh post in northeast Syria on Saturday after three days of clashes with several jihadist groups.

Mr Abdurrahman said the Kurdish gunmen were fighting pockets of rebels in southern Yaaroubiyeh.