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Posts tagged ‘Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’

UN in Final Report: Chemical Arms Were Used Repeatedly in Syria.

UNITED NATIONS — Chemical weapons were likely used in five out of seven attacks investigated by U.N. experts in Syria, where a 2 1/2-year civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, according to the final report of a U.N. inquiry published on Thursday.

U.N. investigators said the deadly nerve agent sarin was likely used in four incidents, in one case on a large scale.

The report noted that in several cases the victims included government soldiers and civilians, though it was not always possible to establish with certainty any direct links between the attacks, the victims and the alleged sites of the incidents.

“The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the final report by chief U.N. investigator Ake Sellstrom said.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari and the opposition Syrian National Coalition did immediately comment on the 82-page report.

The investigation found likely use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal, near the northern city of Aleppo, in March; in Saraqeb, near the northern city of Idlib, in April; and in Jobar and Ashrafiat Sahnaya, near Damascus, in August.

As initially reported by Sellstrom in September, there was “clear and convincing” evidence that sarin was used on a large-scale against civilians in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, killing hundreds of people.

In the final report on Thursday, the experts said sarin had likely also been used on a small-scale in Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiat Sahnaya.

The inquiry was only looking at whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.


Rebels have seized all kinds of weapons from military depots across Syria, according to the United Nations. Western powers say the rebels do not have access to chemical arms.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the Sellstrom investigation after the Syrian government wrote to Ban accusing the rebels of carrying out the chemical weapons attack in Khan al-Assal.

Sellstrom delivered the final report to Ban on Thursday. Ban will brief the U.N. General Assembly on the report on Friday and the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

“The use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity,” Ban said. “We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere.”

The United Nations has now received 16 reports of possible chemical weapons use in Syria, mainly from the Syrian government, Britain, France, and the United States. The experts looked closely at seven of those cases.

The U.N. experts were from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

France, Britain, and the United States said the technical details of Sellstrom’s initial September report on the Aug. 21 attack pointed to government culpability, while Syria and Russia blamed the rebels.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government agreed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal after the Aug. 21 Ghouta attack, which had led to threats of U.S. airstrikes. Syria also acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in September to enforce the deal, brokered by the United States and Russia, which requires Syria to account fully for its chemical weapons and for the arsenal to be removed and destroyed by mid-2014.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been charged with supervising the elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Israel Hits Russia Weapons Shipment in Syria; Chemical Arms Sealed.

Israel carried out an airstrike on a Syrian military installation to stop a shipment to Hezbollah, as inspectors said Syria’s entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal.

Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television said Thursday that Israel had hit a Syrian air base in Latakia province, targeting a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles destined for the Lebanese Shiite movement.

A U.S. official confirmed to AFP that “there was an Israeli strike” but gave no details on the location or the target, while Israeli officials refused to comment.

“Historically, targets have been missiles transferred to Hezbollah,” allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, the official said.

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Al-Arabiya quoted the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying explosions took place Wednesday near Latakia at an air defense base.

In May, Israel carried out two airstrikes inside Syria, and a senior Israeli official told AFP both targets were Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported Thursday that all of Syria’s chemical weapons were under “tamper proof” seals.

“All stocks of chemical weapons and agents have been placed under seals that are impossible to break,” OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said Thursday.

“These are 1,000 tons of chemical agents [which can be used to make weapons] and 290 tonnes of chemical weapons,” Chartier told AFP in The Hague.

The OPCW also said Syria’s chemical arms production equipment had been destroyed.

Inspectors had until Friday to visit all the sites and destroy all production and filling equipment in accordance with a timeline laid down by the OPCW and a U.N. Security Council resolution.

The resolution, stating that the arsenal must be destroyed by mid-2014, followed a U.S.-Russian deal to avert military strikes on Syria after chemical weapons attacks near Damascus in August.

The West blamed those attacks, which killed hundreds, on Assad’s regime, which denied all responsibility and, in turn, blamed rebels.

The United States is “increasingly confident” the chemical arsenal will be eliminated by June 30, Thomas Countryman, a senior State Department official in charge of non-proliferation issues said.

IHS Jane’s hailed the “milestone” but cautioned that the work was far from over, noting that the entire arsenal is still under regime control.

“This is a very hurried process that has significant and real uncertainty associated with it. Only when the weapons are destroyed or removed from Syria will it be complete,” IHS Jane’s director for aerospace and defense consulting David Reeths told AFP.

The inspectors’ report came as international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met in Damascus with opposition members tolerated by the regime, part of a regional tour to garner support for proposed peace talks, dubbed Geneva II. He travels to Beirut on Friday.

Brahimi has been struggling to persuade a wary regime and an increasingly divided opposition to attend the conference.

On Wednesday, he met Assad for less than an hour, during which the president criticized foreign interference in Syria.

“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria’s future,” state media quoted Assad as telling Brahimi.

Earlier this month, Assad cast doubt on the possibility of his regime attending the Geneva talks, saying he would not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels or to foreign states.

The main opposition National Coalition has said it will refuse to take part in any talks unless Assad’s resignation is on the table, and rebel groups have warned participants will be considered traitors.

On the ground, the Syrian Revolution General Commission said regime forces had seized the town of Sfeira in Aleppo province after a 27-day siege, and the Aleppo Media Center, a network of activists, said rebels had completely withdrawn.

The army maintains several arms factories in the area.

The Observatory also reported a rebel mortar attack on Jaramana, a mixed Christian-Druze suburb of Damascus, that killed two women and wounded several people, and said at least eight other people were killed in an army rocket attack on southern Damascus’s Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighborhood.

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More than 120,000 people have been killed in the 31-month rebellion against the Assad regime triggered by his bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests.

Thousands more have been detained both by the regime and by rebels, and many civilians, including foreign journalists, have gone missing, some abducted by jihadist groups.

One of those kidnapped, Polish photojournalist Marcin Suder, managed to escape his captors and is back home, Poland’s foreign ministry said Thursday.

© AFP 2013


Syria conflict: Israel ‘carries out Latakia air strike’.


“There’s every likelihood that this was the squadron that carried out the attack”, reports Quentin Sommerville

Israeli aircraft have carried out a strike near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, a US official says.

The official said the strike targeted Russian-made missiles intended for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Latakia is a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, where his Alawite community is concentrated.

This is believed to be sixth Israeli attack in Syria this year. Israel does not comment on specific operations.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said it would act if it felt Syrian weapons, conventional or chemical, were being transferred to militant groups in the region, especially Hezbollah.

Continue reading the main story


image of Kevin ConnollyKevin ConnollyBBC News, Jerusalem

Israeli air-raids on military targets inside Syria have become one of the strangest sub-plots of the civil war.

This is thought to be the fifth or sixth such attack this year but it is Israeli policy not to offer any public comment on specific operations.

Syria too – for all its decades of hostility towards Israel – hasn’t offered any military response and has tended to say little or nothing about the operations.

Israel has said publicly that it won’t allow the Assad regime in Damascus to transfer powerful rockets and missiles to its allied Shia militia Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, where they could threaten targets in Israel.

The Syrian government caught in a grinding civil war of attrition within its borders does not have the capacity for any kind of military confrontation with Israel – avoiding public comment may be a way of reducing pressure from its own people and from the wider Arab world for some form of retaliation.

Israel’s silence gives it some kind of deniability – even if no-one really doubts it is responsible.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, may be a little concerned. The consignment of expensive weapons destroyed is thought to have come from Russia, and Washington won’t want to see Russian displeasure provoked at a moment when its co-operation is needed to keep alive any hope of peace talks.

Reports of the strike came as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said all Syria’s declared equipment for making chemical weapons had been destroyed, one day before a deadline.

Action by the OPCW was agreed following allegations, denied by the Syrian government, that its forces had used chemical weapons in civilian areas – and after the US and France threatened military intervention.

Delicate moment

A US official said the Israeli strike took place overnight from Wednesday into Thursday.

Reports circulated on Thursday of explosions near Latakia, but the cause was not clear.

“Several explosions were heard in an air defence base in the Snubar Jableh area,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist network.

Neither Israel nor Syria have commented on the reports. Earlier this year, Mr Assad had promised to respond to any future strikes by Israel.

One unnamed US official told the Associated Press that the missiles targeted by Israel were Russian-made SA-125s.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says the reports come at a delicate moment, with the Russians – who apparently made the weapons that Israel is said to have targeted – working closely with the US to get a peace conference on Syria off the ground.

Russia has been a key backer of President Assad’s, continuing to supply his government with weapons during the conflict in Syria.

Lakhdar Brahimi: “We are making progress. Whether that progress will be enough… is not certain”

The UN Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has told the BBC he believes progress was “certainly being made” on preparations for an international peace conference in Switzerland – widely referred to as Geneva 2.

Continue reading the main story

Alleged Israeli strikes on Syria

  • July 2013: Reports citing US officials say the Israeli air force struck a missile warehouse in Latakia
  • 5 May 2013: Two Israeli air strikes reportedly hit a military complex around Jamraya, north-west of Damascus
  • 2 May 2013: Israeli planes launch a strike targeting shipment of ground-to-ground missiles at a warehouse at Damascus airport, according to US intelligence sources
  • January 2013: Syrian military says Israeli jets carried out an air strike on a military research centre north-west of Damascus

But he said it was not certain if it was enough for the conference to take place, as planned, on 23 November. He said he hoped to announce a date soon.

Speaking in Damascus, at the end of his first visit to the capital since December, he said “people are realising more and more there is no military solution and don’t see any way of getting out of this horrible situation except through Geneva”.

‘Constructive partner’

On Thursday, the OPCW said in a statementthat its teams had inspected 21 of the 23 chemical weapons sites in Syria.

It said two sites were too dangerous to visit, but equipment from those sites had already been moved to places where it could be inspected.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that his government was co-operating, and was making a contribution to freeing the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

Lyse Doucet reports from Damascus

“I hope those who have always thought of us negatively will change their minds and understand that Syria was, is, and will be always a constructive partner,” Mr Mekdad said.

Syria’s next deadline is mid-November, by which time the OPCW and the Syrians must agree a detailed plan to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Syria has until mid-2014 to destroy the chemical weapons themselves.

Syria’s arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve gas sarin, the blister agent sulphur mustard and other banned chemicals, stored at dozens of sites.

The uprising against Mr Assad began in 2011. More than 100,000 people have been killed and more than two million people have fled the country, according to the UN.

Chemical Weapons Watchdog OPCW Wins Nobel Peace Prize.

OSLO — The global chemical weapons watchdog charged with overseeing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile during a civil war won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head a year ago by the Taliban, had been the bookmakers’ favorite to win the prize for her campaign for girls’ right to education.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a relatively small organization with a modest budget, dispatched its experts after a sarin gas attack killed more than 1,400 people in August.

Their deployment, supported by the United Nations, helped avert a U.S. strike against President Bashar Assad.

Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, said that the award was a reminder to nations with big stocks, such as the United States and Russia, to get rid of their own reserves “especially because they are demanding that others do the same, like Syria.”

“We now have the opportunity to get rid of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “That would be a great event in history if we could achieve that.”

The OPCW’s mission was unprecedented in taking place during a civil war that has riven the country and killed over 100,000 people. Members of the Hague-based OPCW team came under sniper fire on Aug. 26, but OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said this week Syrian officials were cooperating in the process.

The award marks a return to the classical disarmament roots of the prize after some recent awards, such as to the European Union last year and President Barack Obama in 2009.

Those awards led to criticism that the committee was out of line with the spirit of prize, founded by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.

His 1895 will says the prize should go to one of three causes — “fraternity between nations,” the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.

Washington blamed Assad for the August sarin attack, a charge he denied, instead blaming rebels. Facing the threat of a U.S. military strike, he eventually agreed to destroy Syria’s sizable chemical weapons program and allow in OPCW inspectors.

The $1.25 million prize will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

The OPCW, based in the Hague in the Netherlands, has about 500 staff and an annual budget of under $100 million.

The OPCW, which has 189 member states, said Syria was cooperating and it could eliminate its chemical weapons by mid-2014, provided they received support from all sides in its civil war.

Chemical weapons experts believe Syria has roughly 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and VX nerve gas, some of it stored as bulk raw chemicals and some of it already loaded onto missiles, warheads or rockets.

Under a Russian-U.S. deal struck last month, Syria must render useless all production facilities and weapons-filling equipment by November, a process begun over the past several weeks.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Syria conflict: Chemical arms experts cross border.

The OPCW team had to drive from Beirut into Syria because of clashes on the airport road in Damascus

A team of international disarmament experts has arrived in Syria to begin work on dismantling the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

Syria says it will co-operate with the mission set up after a US-Russia deal endorsed by the UN Security Council.

It is the first time the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been asked to destroy a country’s chemical arms during a war.

Correspondents say the OPCW inspectors face a daunting task.

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, has said that seven out of the 19 chemical weapons sites declared by the government last month are in combat zones.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says it could be complicated for the inspectors to gain access to these areas; local truces may be needed to allow the work to proceed.

Continue reading the main story

Syria’s chemical weapons

  • Syria believed to possess more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and pre-cursor chemicals, including blister agent, sulphur mustard, and sarin nerve agent; also thought to have produced most potent nerve agent, VX
  • US believes Syria’s arsenal can be “delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets”
  • Syria acceded to Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified

UN chemical weapons inspectors filed an interim report last month confirming that the nerve agent sarin had been used in an attack on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August that killed hundreds of people.

Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, the blister agent sulphur mustard and other banned chemicals stored at dozens of sites.

Last month, it submitted to the OPCW a full account of its arsenal, as part of the US-Russian initiative that saw it accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

An OPCW official told the AFP news agency on Sunday: “At this point, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the information provided by the Syrian regime.”

Logistics talks

The OPCW inspectors – based in The Hague – stayed overnight in Beirut, Lebanon, before crossing into Syria on Tuesday.

They will first discuss operation logistics at the foreign ministry in Damascus before verifying the sites and making assessments.

The arms monitors are then expected to destroy the equipment used for mixing and preparing chemical weapons, as well as the munitions used to deliver them.

Under the agreement between the United States and Russia, this work should be finished by November. Some chemical stocks will be removed safely and destroyed outside Syria, while others will be collected up for destruction inside the country.

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his weapon towards snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Aleppo district of Salaheddine, 30 September, 2013.OPCW disarmament teams face a large and dangerous operation in the midst of fierce fighting

All this material is supposed to have been disposed of by the target date of the middle of next year.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has promised to comply with the disarmament deal. “History proves that we have always honoured all treaties we have signed,” he said in an interview with Italian television on Sunday.

Russia and America are in the process of destroying their own chemical arsenals. This process has taken years longer than expected.

Washington, Moscow and others are hoping to build on the rare consensus achieved over the chemical weapons issue, to push for peace settlement talks in Geneva. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has proposed a date in mid-November for the discussions.

But correspondents say many obstacles remain to be overcome before credible and serious negotiations can take place.

Source: BBC NEWS.

Assad Submits Toxic Weapons List as UN Prepares for Debate.

BRUSSELS — Syria turned in an initial inventory of its chemical weapons Friday, in advance of U.S.- Russian talks next week on United Nations action to compel the Arab nation to surrender its toxic arsenal.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it had “received an initial disclosure from the Syrian government of its chemical weapons program.” A Sept. 14 U.S.-Russian agreement, which averted an American military strike on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, called for an itemization of Syria’s poison gas stocks by today.

Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said yesterday that it was “a positive step” for Syria to submit the list within the period outlined in the agreement, which calls for the Arab country to turn over its chemical weapons to international control for eventual destruction.

The move came as the U.S., France and the U.K. push for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution next week giving international force to the terms of the Geneva accord between the U.S. and Russia.

Efforts to agree on a UN resolution encountered headwinds from Russia, Assad’s strongest ally, which opposes any measure that alludes to a threat of force.

“There need to be consequences for noncompliance,” Rhodes told reporters on a conference call. “We would want to see the strongest enforcement possible.”

Russia is also resisting any attempt to assign blame to Assad’s regime for an Aug. 21 chemical attack that the U.S. says killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.


The Security Council is set to negotiate on a resolution next week, as world leaders travel to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly.

“We believe there needs to be a sense of urgency,” Rhodes said. “We want to be moving as quickly as we can to get those weapons under international control and to destroy them.”

The timetable has started to slip. The executive council of the chemical weapons organization in The Hague, which would oversee Syria’s chemicals disarmament, said yesterday it has postponed a meeting on Syria that was scheduled for tomorrow, aiming for a new date in the middle of next week.

The OPCW will submit the initial document for review by its executive council, of which the U.S. is a member, State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said, declining to comment further on whether Syria’s submission met requirements of the U.S.-Russian agreement.

“Clearly, we said they needed to submit a comprehensive list of their entire stockpile and programs,” Harf said. “But we’ll have more to come, I’m sure, as we go through the list.”

Russia has had close ties with Syria since Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, took power in a coup in 1970. Russia has been a major arms provider to the regime and maintains its only military base outside the former Soviet Union at Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Washington that he pressed for a “firm and strong” UN resolution in a “fairly long conversation” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday.

Assad is likely to stop complying if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution that doesn’t threaten force against his regime, said Firas Abi Ali, a London-based Middle East analyst at research firm IHS.


“Then you’ll start seeing delaying tactics as part of the technical process,” he said by phone. “For now, while there is a credible threat of force being used against them, they are going to try and appear very reasonable.”

George Sabra, a member of the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said he had no faith in Assad’s pledge to implement the agreement.

“Everybody knows about the credibility of the regime and how it honors its obligations,” Sabra said in a televised interview with SkyNews Arabiya. “There will be lists going and delegations coming for months, and even for years, while the regime continues committing crimes against humanity.”

With the threat of military action receding, West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery, which expired yesterday, fell $1.72, or 1.6 percent, percent to $104.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since Aug. 21. Prices slid 3.3 percent this week, the biggest five-day drop since June.

In an interview that aired Sept. 18 on Fox News, Assad said his regime will abide by the convention banning chemical weapons and won’t impose conditions. Syria’s government is willing to discuss with international organizations the timeline for destroying its stockpiles, Assad said, adding that some experts estimate it would take a year to eliminate all of them.

In an indication of the challenge, a U.S. stockpile of munitions armed with the same type of nerve gas used in Syria last month is still stored in concrete bunkers at an Army depot in Kentucky 30 years after the U.S. government promised to destroy it.

Once a plan is in place for Syria, UN member states will need to help carry it out because the world body and the chemical weapons organization lack the resources do so on their own.

The OPCW has only about 70 inspectors to visit an estimated 45 to 50 chemical weapons sites in Syria, and countries such as the Czech Republic, Japan and Russia with expertise in disarming chemical weapons would have to provide support, said a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


Experts: Securing Syria’s Arsenal Is Rife With Challenges.

BEIRUT — Russia’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control for dismantling would involve a lengthy and complicated operation made more difficult by a deep lack of trust — not to mention the lack of an inventory, experts said Tuesday.

Syria is believed by experts to have 1,000 tons of chemical warfare agents scattered over several dozen sites across the country, and just getting them transferred while fighting rages presents a logistical and security nightmare.

Very few details are known so far about the plan announced Monday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, part of a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at averting U.S.-led military strikes in retaliation for a deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus.

Syria swiftly accepted, and the initiative was endorsed in quick succession by Britain, France, and the United States as an idea worth exploring. Russia, Syria’s most powerful ally, says it is now working with Damascus to come up with a detailed plan of action.

But the process is rife with challenges, taking place to the backdrop of a raging civil war and an opaque regime that until now has never formally confirmed that it has chemical weapons. Lack of trust between the regime’s chief supporters and opponents in the international community is likely to complicate the operation.

“This situation falls outside anything that we’ve known so far,” said Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent chemical weapons consultant and disarmament expert.

President Bashar Assad’s regime is said to have one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve gas sarin.

There have been longstanding concerns that the embattled leader might unleash them on a larger scale, transfer some of them to the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group, or that the chemical agents could fall into the hands of al-Qaida militants among the rebels.

Many are skeptical that the Syrian regime would follow through on its commitments. The government has typically accepted last-minute deals with the international community to buy time, then argued over the details or fell back on its promises.

Most recently, Syria called for an immediate U.N. investigation into an alleged chemical attack near Aleppo in March. Negotiations then dragged on until August before a deal was struck.

“The devil is in the details,” said Ralf Trapp, a disarmament consultant who worked for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons from 1997 to 2006. “Neither side [of the Syria conflict] has a reputation for sticking to deals for long periods of time.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, known by its acronym OPCW, will likely work, along with the United Nations, on a framework for implementing the deal.

The OPCW is the implementing authority for the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. The convention requires all parties to the treaty to declare and to destroy whatever chemical weapons they may possess under the international verification of the OPCW.

Syria is not a signatory, meaning the process would have to start from scratch. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Tuesday that his government will declare its chemical weapons arsenal and sign the convention.

The long road toward securing Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal would begin with the Syrian government’s preparing a detailed, comprehensive declaration of what it possesses, including details on production methodology and precursors for chemical agents.

The OPCW and the United Nations would also have to create a legal structure to prepare and then implement the dismantling program, according to experts.

Even then, Zanders said, “any failure on [the part of] the Syrian government would immediately destroy the confidence of the international community and probably split it again in the type of discussion which we have seen recently.”

Following that, inspectors, most likely from the OPCW, would go to the country for verification, but only after getting assurances from both the government and the rebels that engineers and technicians can operate safely.

“It would be an enormous effort. The challenges are great, not just technical but also political and emotional. But if people want to do it, it can be done of course,” Zanders said.

Still, Zanders said the process could take a year, if not more.

Eli Carmon, a counterterrorism expert at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, a private Israeli university, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that transferring out chemical weapons and destroying them is “impossible in the short term.”

“There is great difficulty to take control of this arsenal, to check how large it is, how and where to transfer it, and how to destroy it,” Carmon said.

Dany Shoham, an expert on chemical and biological weapons at the Israel-based Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said chemical weapons agents could be removed by air or by sea in a carefully coordinated mission.

Those carrying out the mission would have to ensure that the weapons are not stolen and that there is no threat of an explosion or leak.

According to a report released Sunday by the Israeli institute, Syria’s chemical weapons are stored in some 50 different cities, mostly near the Turkish border in northern Syria.

The report said that Syria began to produce its own chemical weapons in 1973 as a deterrence to Israel, and intensified production after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed in 1979. Since 2009, Syria has been amassing a larger chemical weapons arsenal and engineering more complex chemical compounds, the report said.

According to the report and multiple other experts, Syria is believed to have mustard, sarin and nerve agents such as VX, along with aerial bombs, artillery shells, rockets, and ballistic missiles that can deliver chemical weapons.

Trapp said he presumed the arsenal was well kept. “This was the crown jewel of the Syrian army,” he said. “I presume that a lot of investment has gone into the stockpile and that it is probably well managed.”

Destruction of the arsenal is also problematic, requiring a secure destruction facility to be developed and commissioned. Experts say nerve gas has to be disposed of properly in locations with high temperatures and controls to keep gas from escaping to minimize the risk of accidentally gassing other people.

One option reportedly being considered is moving the stockpile to a Russian naval base in Tartous, a regime stronghold on the Mediterranean, for destruction. But some say that may not be feasible.

“It is unlikely that the site would be able to house such quantities alone,” said Karl Dewey, a weapons analyst at IHS Jane’s CBRN Intelligence Centre. “At a minimum any site would need to be secure and free from the fear of attack.”

Another option is moving the weapons out of the country to a destruction facility. Analysts say there are only two countries, the United States and Russia, that have facilities that can deal with such amounts.

Experts spoke of two relatively recent and somewhat comparable precedents.

One is the disarmament of Iraq after the Gulf War by the U.N. Special Commission.

“The difference was this was a defeated country and you could operate under totally different conditions,” Trapp said. “Here we are in the middle of a civil war, and so you will need all the cooperation of all sides of the conflict in Syria. Otherwise it won’t work.”

In the other case, Libya declared in 2003 it had 25 metric tons of sulfur mustard and 1,400 metric tons of precursor chemicals used to make chemical weapons. It also declared more than 3,500 unfilled aerial bombs designed for use with chemical warfare agents such as sulfur mustard, and three chemical weapons production facilities.

At the time, the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was trying to shed his image as an international outcast and restore relations with Western governments, and in 2004 underscored his commitment to dismantle his weapons by using bulldozers to crush 3,300 unloaded aerial bombs that could have been used to deliver chemical weapons.

Libya destroyed nearly 13.5 metric tons (15 tons) of sulfur mustard in 2010, about 54 percent of its stockpile. The OPCW had inspectors in Libya up until February 2011 verifying the destruction process but left as the anti-Gadhafi rebellion gathered intensity.

Regional affairs expert Efraim Inbar cautioned that Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons, may not reveal all of his stockpiles and could even continue to produce new chemical weapons.

“I don’t think supervision of weapons is ever 100 percent,” said Inbar, who directs the Begin-Sadat Center. “You can always cheat.”

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Russia: Report Blames Syrian Rebels for Chemical Weapons Attack.

A 100-page report that Russia says it has compiled details what the country says is evidence that the Syrian rebels carried out a deadly sarin gas attack in an Aleppo suburb in March.

The document, disclosed late on Wednesday by the Russian Foreign Ministry, appeared to counter accusations that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad where behind the attack in the Khan al Asal suburb, McClatchy reports.

The foreign ministry said the report was delivered to the United Nations in July — and that it included detailed scientific analysis of samples that Russian technicians collected at the site of the alleged attack.

The investigation of the March 19 incident was conducted under strict guidelines established by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia said. The international agency governs adherence to treaties prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, according to McClatchy.

Russia said samples that its technicians had collected had been sent to OPCW-certified laboratories in Russia.

The document itself was not released, McClatchy reports.

The foreign ministry, however, drew a pointed comparison between what it said was the scientific detail of the report and the far shorter intelligence summaries that the United States, Britain, and France have released to justify claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.

The longest of those summaries, by the French, ran nine pages, McClatchy reports.

Further, each relies primarily on circumstantial evidence to make its case, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, and they disagree with on some details, including the number of people who died in the attack, according to McClatchy.

“The Russian report is specific,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is a scientific and technical document.”

No immediate comment was available from the United States, McClatchy reports.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Todd Beamon

UN: Chemical Weapons Investigators to Visit Syria Imminently.

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. experts will travel to Syria imminently to investigate claims of chemical weapons use during that country’s civil war after the United Nations and the Syrian government agreed on details of the trip, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

The United Nations said two weeks ago that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s government had agreed to let the inspectors, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, travel to three sites where chemical weapons were reported to have been used.

Ban’s press office said in a statement on Wednesday that the Syrian government had now “formally accepted the modalities essential for cooperation to ensure the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the mission.”

“The departure of the team is now imminent,” it said. “As agreed with the government of Syria, the team will remain in the country to conduct its activities, including on-site visits, for a period of up to 14 days, extendable upon mutual consent.”

The United Nations said Sellstrom’s team had completed their trip preparations in The Hague last weekend.

One site to be visited by the U.N. experts is Khan al-Assal in Aleppo, where the Syrian government says rebels used chemical weapons in March. The other two locations have not yet been identified.

Rebels seized Khan al-Assal from Assad’s forces last month. The opposition Syrian National Coalition has told Ban it would cooperate with the chemical weapons inquiry and “welcome U.N. investigators into all territories under our control.”

The United Nations said it has received 13 reports of possible chemical weapons use — one from Syria’s government and the rest mainly from Britain, France, and the United States.


The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it. The U.N. inquiry will try to establish only whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

The United States concluded in June that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against rebel fighters. President Barack Obama said last year that any attempt to deploy or use chemical or biological weapons in Syria would cross a “red line.”

U.S. congressional panels last month agreed to a White House plan to provide arms to the Syrian rebels.

Ban appointed Sellstrom in March to lead a U.N. inquiry into the claims of chemical weapons use, but diplomatic wrangling and concerns over safety have prevented the team of experts from entering Syria.

“The Secretary-General believes that an effective mechanism to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons can serve as an important deterrent against their employment,” Ban’s press office said.

The United Nations has been demanding unfettered access in Syria to conduct the investigation. Sellstrom’s team is made up of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

Syria is one of seven countries that have not joined the 1997 convention banning chemical weapons. Western countries believe it has stockpiles of undeclared mustard gas, sarin, and VX nerve agents.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since 2011.

More than 1.9 million Syrians have fled the country — two-thirds of those since the start of the year — and more than 4.2 million people have been internally displaced, the United Nations has said. Most of those in need are women and children.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

U.N. Launches Probe Into Alleged Syrian Chemical Attack.

The United Nations said on Thursday it will investigate Syria’s allegations that rebel forces used chemical weapons in an attack near Aleppo, but Western countries sought a probe of all claims concerning the use of such banned arms.”I have decided to conduct a United Nations investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The investigation will focus on “the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government,” he told reporters.

Syria asked Ban to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack by “terrorist groups” near the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, said Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari.

The deaths of 26 people in that rocket attack have become the focus of competing claims Wednesday from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s supporters and opponents, who accuse each other of firing a missile laden with chemicals.

The Syrian opposition reported a second chemical weapons attack on Tuesday near Damascus.

Ban made clear the focus of the investigation he announced would be on the Aleppo attack.

“I am of course aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons,” he said, adding that the United Nations would be cooperating with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization.

“My announcement should serve as an unequivocal reminder that the use of chemical weapons is a crime against humanity,” Ban said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Washington wanted any serious allegations regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be investigated.

“The United States supports an investigation that pursues any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, and underscores the importance of launching this investigation as swiftly as possible,” Rice said in a statement.


France and Britain wrote to Ban on Thursday to draw his attention to the second alleged attack near Damascus, as well as one in Homs in late December. The rebels blame Syria’s government for all three incidents

“Given the gravity of these allegations we judge it essential that all the pertinent facts concerning these allegations are swiftly investigated,” France and Britain wrote. “We therefore request that you launch an urgent investigation into all allegations as expeditiously as possible.”

U.S. and European officials say there is no evidence of a chemical weapons attack. If one is confirmed, it would be the first use of such weapons in the two-year Syrian conflict, which the United Nations says has killed 70,000 people.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Ban was reviewing the British and French request. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian government’s permission would be required to broaden the investigation to include all three alleged attacks. One U.N. diplomat said Assad’s government would have to consent to it.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Wednesday the British and French demand for an investigation into other attacks was an attempt to delay the U.N. probe of the Aleppo incident. He praised Ban’s decision to begin an investigation.

The dispute over the scope of the U.N. investigation highlights the chasm between Russia’s position toward the Syrian government, its ally, and that of the Western powers who support the opposition trying to oust Assad. The deadlock on the council has left it powerless to act on Syria.

Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that bans chemical weapons. For months the United States, Israel and European countries have voiced concerns about the security of Syria’s chemical arms stockpile.

Israel, Myanmar, Angola, Egypt, North Korea, Somalia and South Sudan are the only other states who have not joined the 1997 convention.

This is the first time the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees the convention, has been asked to investigate in a conflict zone. A team of inspectors is ready to travel to Syria when it is safe to do so.

The World Health Organization said it would support the investigation as requested by Ban. “The overall mandate, mission composition and operational conditions, including safety and security, have yet to be finalized. No start date has been set,” said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.

Ban urged the Syrian government and rebels to cooperate.

“There is much work to do and this will not happen overnight, it is obviously a difficult mission,” Ban said, adding the probe will begin as soon as possible.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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