Inspectors begin destroying Syria’s chemical weapons

Assad suggests mediation role for Germany in ending civil war

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons return to their hotel in Damascus yesterday. Photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons return to their hotel in Damascus yesterday. Photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

Mon, Oct 7, 2013, 01:36

International experts yesterday began the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by destroying empty missile warheads and aerial chemical shells and disabling mobile and static mixing and filling units.

The bombs were run over by heavy vehicles while the units were attacked by sledge hammers under the supervision of monitors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The team is expected to visit 19 sites where elements of the arsenal are stored and destroy the means to manufacture agents and fill warheads before the end of this month and then tackle the task of destroying 1,000 tons of mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents, and ricin, a deadly toxin which Syria has not been able to weaponise.

Once the warheads and equipment are destroyed, the US and Russia are expected to provide the means to eliminate the precursors. The US has offered to set up a mobile field unit capable of neutralising large quantities of chemicals which would be transferred out of Syria. Residue will then have to be incinerated by the US or other countries. Filled chemical bombs and shells as well as mustard will be destroyed in Syria itself.

Opposition forces

Damascus has been facilitating the task by concentrating its arsenal at fewer sites although seven storage locations are said to be surrounded by territory held by opposition forces.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has, once again, denied that government troops have used chemical weapons and suggested that Germany could try to broker a deal to end the 30-month old civil conflict. In an interview with Der Spiegel, he said he would be “delighted if envoys came from Germany” but added the government would not negotiate with rebel groups until they put down their weapons.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said he was urging all parties to go to Geneva “without conditions” during the second half of November for talks on ending the Syrian war. He expressed frustration over the repeatedly postponed peace conference.

Yesterday, eight people were killed and 24 wounded by rebel mortar fire in a Christian neighbourhood in Damascus Old City.