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Syria hands over details of chemical arms

September 21, 2013

DAMASCUS, Sept 20: Syria has begun supplying details of its chemical arsenal, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday.

A senior Syrian official, meanwhile, said Damascus wanted a ceasefire in the 30-month war, which has reportedly killed more than 100,000 people and forced more than two million to flee.

Hours before a deadline for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to provide details on its arsenal, the Hague-based group tasked with dismantling the arms said it had received an initial report.

“The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has received an initial disclosure from the Syrian government of its chemical weapons programme,” an OPCW statement said.

Its technical secretariat is now examining the details, it said.

A United Nations diplomat said the OPCW had received the Syrian declaration on Thursday. “It is quite lengthy,” he said.

The organisation has postponed a meeting of its Executive Council set for Sunday that had been due to discuss how to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

Damascus had until Saturday to supply details of its arsenal, in line with a US-Russian plan that helped prevent military action on regime targets following a chemical attack last month that killed hundreds of people.

The plan stipulates that Assad’s regime hand over its chemical weapons and facilities, which would be destroyed by mid-2014. US Secretary of State John Kerry said he and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov spoke by telephone on Friday about a “strong” UN Security Council resolution on ridding Syria of chemical weapons.

“We talked about the cooperation 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,” Mr Kerry said.

“We will continue to work on that,” he added.

On Thursday, Mr Kerry said the Security Council must be prepared to agree to a binding resolution next week. The five permanent members of the panel — the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain — have been wrangling over the text of the resolution since Monday in an effort to find common ground.

Russia, a key ally of Damascus, opposes all references to a possible use of force.

On the ground, Islamist militants fought fiercely for the town of Azaz on the Turkish border before seizing it on Wednesday from ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) activists. The move by Al Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) triggered the ire of the National Coalition opposition group.

It issued a rare condemnation of ISIS, accusing the militants of violating the principles of the anti-Assad uprising.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Northern Storm brigade, loyal to the FSA and based in Azaz, had agreed to a truce with ISIS.

Azaz has both symbolic and strategic value as it was one of the first towns to be captured from government troops, in July 2012, by the FSA which set up its own administration there.

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

Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, meanwhile, said the war was now in stalemate and Damascus would call for a ceasefire if long-delayed peace talks in Geneva took place.

“Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side,” Mr Jamil told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Asked what his government would propose at the stalled Geneva II summit, he replied: “An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process.”

In New York, UN envoys were set to resume talks on a draft Security Council resolution that would enshrine the US-Russian plan to neutralise Mr Assad’s chemical weapons.—AFP