Syria hands over chemical arms inventory to watchdog

Daily News Egypt
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rebel fighter fires at pro-government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on September 20, 2013. (AFP Photo)
 rebel fighter fires at pro-government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on September 20, 2013. (AFP Photo)
rebel fighter fires at pro-government forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on September 20, 2013.
(AFP Photo)

AFP- Syria handed over the remaining details of its chemical arsenal on Saturday, meeting a deadline under a deal that headed off military strikes, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said.

Damascus had already turned over details of part of its inventory to the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but the group said on Saturday that the process was now complete.

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

“The Technical Secretariat is currently reviewing the information received,” it added.

The disclosure comes as UN envoys struggle to agree on the wording of a resolution to enshrine the deal under which Syria is handing over its chemical weapons for destruction.

The US-Russian agreement, worked out as Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, requiresSyria to hand over the whole of its arsenal.

It has received widespread international support, including from China, whose Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would “support the early launch of the process to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.”

Wang also called for the convening of a mooted peace conference in Geneva “as soon as possible.”

But the international consensus on the plan has not carried over into negotiations on the wording of a UN Security Council resolution to back it up.

The Council’s five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — have been wrangling over the text of the resolution since Monday in a bid to find common ground.

The United States, France and Britain want a strongly worded resolution, possibly under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII, which could allow the use of force or sanctions to ensure compliance.

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

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov spoke on the telephone Friday about a “strong” UN Security Council resolution on the deal.

“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,” Kerry said.

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

The chemical weapons disarmament deal has done little to slow fighting on the ground, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that regime troops killed 15 people in a Sunni village in the central province of Hama late on Friday.

The Observatory said regime troops backed by Alawite pro-regime militias killed 12 men, two women and a child in the village of Sheikh Hadid.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is from the Alawite religious minority and faces an uprising that is dominated by Sunnis.

Elsewhere in the country, the Observatory said rival rebel groups carried out prisoner exchanges under the terms of a deal to end fighting over the town of Azaz, near the border with Turkey.

The truce deal between the mainstream Free Syrian Army and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was brokered by a third brigade, which is overseeing the ceasefire.

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

The Syrian opposition National Coalition meanwhile rejected an offer from Iranian President Hassan Rowhani for Tehran to mediate talks between rebels and the regime.

“The Iranian initiative is not serious and lacks political credibility,” the key opposition grouping said in a statement, pointing to Tehran’s close ties to Assad’s government.

French President Francois Hollande is to meet Rowhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week for talks on Syria and Iran’s nuclear programme.

“What we want to see is an Iran fully engaged, like other players, in the search for a real political transition in Syria,” an aide to Hollande said.

Rowhani, a moderate on Iran’s political scene, has made several diplomatic overtures since his election in June, and there has been speculation that he could also meet US President Barack Obama at the United Nations next week.

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