World watchdog scrutinises Syria chemical arms data

AFP , Sunday 22 Sep 2013

The OPCW pour over complete inventory from Syria with full information about its chemical weapons; US official surprised and encouraged by the volume of information provided by Damascus

The world's chemical weapons watchdog poured over an inventory of Syria's arsenal on the weekend ahead of an expected UN vote on how to secure and neutralise the lethal arms.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Saturday that it had received a complete inventory from Syria and was scrutinising the data.

Just hours later CNN quoted a senior US administration official as saying that US officials were surprised and encouraged by the volume of information provided by Damascus.

"The official said the declaration was more complete than what the officials had expected the Syrians to put forth," CNN reported.

Syria had to meet a Saturday deadline to provide the OPCW with a full inventory of its chemical arsenal, in order to avert US-led military strikes in line with a US-Russian deal.

The plan calls for Syria's arsenal to be destroyed by mid-2014 amid hopes that it could pave the way for peace talks to end the 30-month conflict which has killed more than 110,000 people and forced two million more to flee abroad.

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

"The Technical Secretariat is currently reviewing the information received," said a terse statement, a day after the watchdog announced it had received a first instalment of the Syrian inventory.

The OPCW, which enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria has applied to join, postponed a meeting of its Executive Council due Sunday to discuss the practicalities of disposing of Syria's chemical weapons.

The delay came as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council remained deadlocked over the wording of a resolution to back the destruction of Syria's weapons, which is to be put to a vote by the 15-member panel.

The council's five veto-wielding permanent members have been haggling over the text since last Monday.

The United States, France and Britain want a binding resolution, possibly that would stipulate the use of force on Syria but Russia opposes that approach.

The fifth member China -- which in the past joined Russia in vetoing Western-backed draft resolutions on Syria -- called for quick implementation of the US-Russian deal to destroy Syria's arsenal.

The deal was worked out after Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.

Most Western governments and the Syrian opposition accuse forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of unleashing the chemical weapons that killed hundreds in suburbs of the capital.

A UN report released last Monday said that sarin gas was used in the Syria attacks but did not apportion blame. Assad's government and the rebels fighting to oust him have accused each other of being responsible.

The tragedy of the Syria war, which continues to rumble across the Mediterranean country, will undoubtedly take centre stage at UN headquarters when the annual General Assembly opens on Tuesday.

President Hassan Rowhani of Iran, a leading Syrian ally, is among the keynote speakers and has offered to mediate between the opposition and the Damascus government.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has dismissed the offer as "not serious".

Meanwhile regime aircraft bombed targets in various parts of Syria on Saturday while loyalist troops recaptured at least two villages in central Hama province that were in rebel hands.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the troops took back the villages in fierce clashes with rebel fighters, and that 15 people were killed in one town by soldiers backed by pro-regime militiamen.

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