Thursday, October 31, 2013

Syria Is Said to Destroy All Chemical Arms Production Sites

LONDON — The international chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that Syria had met a key deadline for "the functional destruction" of all the chemical weapons production and mixing facilities declared to inspectors, "rendering them inoperable" under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague said in a statement that a joint team of its inspectors and United Nations officials had visited 21 of the 23 chemical sites Syria declared to them. While the remaining two sites were too hazardous to visit because of the country's continuing civil war, the chemical-making equipment there had already been moved to other sites which the inspectors could visit.

"The Joint O.P.C.W.-U.N. mission has inspected 21 of the 23 sites declared by Syria, and 39 of the 41 facilities located at those sites,\'' the statement said. "The two remaining sites were not visited due to safety and security concerns. But Syria declared those sites as abandoned and that the chemical weapons program items they contained were moved to other declared sites, which were inspected."

"The joint mission is now satisfied that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria's declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment," it added.

"Given the progress made," it said, "no further inspection activities are currently planned."

Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical arsenal to avert threatened American and French military strikes following a poison gas attack in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of people.

The United States and its allies backing Syria's rebels accused forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of responsibility for the attack. But Mr. Assad blamed the rebels themselves.

The timetable foresees Syria destroying its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014.

The development on Thursday was depicted as a significant milestone, since it presumably means that Syria could no longer produce chemical weapons. Mr. Assad still controls weapons and stockpiles of chemicals, believed to include mustard gas and sarin, a toxic nerve agent which the Obama administration says was used in the Aug. 21 attack.

The civil war is still raging with conventional weapons pushing the death toll since March 2011 well above 100,000. Millions of Syrians have fled the country.

Syria has submitted proposals to completely destroy the arsenal to the O.P.C.W. which has yet to approve them.

"The next milestone for the mission will be 15 November, by which time the Executive Council must approve a detailed plan of destruction submitted by Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile," the O.P.C.W. statement said on Thursday.
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