US says Syria has not handed over bulk of chemical weapons

Peace talks delegations observe minute’s silence for tens of thousands killed

As Syrian peace talks continued in Geneva yesterday, Damascus was criticised by US defence secretary Chuck Hagel for failing to hand over the bulk of its chemical weapons material to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is charged with shipping stocks out of the country and destroying them.

The US believes that only 4 per cent of the chemicals declared by the Assad regime have been removed.

Meanwhile, in Geneva the Syrian government and opposition delegations stood together and observed a minute of silence to honour the tens of thousands killed in the three-year civil conflict before tackling the subject of terrorism, an issue given priority in the 2012 “Geneva I” declaration.

Tense moments
UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said there had been "tense moments and promising moments" during the day.

The two sides “agreed that terrorism exists but there is no agreement on how to deal with it. This is indispensable if we are to reach a solution to the crisis and return Syria to peace and security,” Mr Brahimi said.

The government delegation focused on radical fundamentalists sponsored by Turkey and the Gulf Arabs and called on the world community “to act to prevent funding, training, and sheltering terrorists and facilitating their influx into Syria”.

The expatriate opposition National Coalition rejected this charge and presented a file on “the regime’s terrorism”, accusing the government of unleashing al-Qaeda-linked groups on the people of Syria.

In a warning coinciding with the Geneva talks, US intelligence chief James Clapper told Congress that al-Qaeda franchises, such as the Jabhat al-Nusra, run camps "to train people to go back to their countries" and commit attacks.

Food parcels
Mr Brahimi, referring to the humanitarian situation in Homs, said he was very disappointed that UN lorries had failed to deliver food to the city where 2,500 people remain in an insurgent-held pocket surrounded by the army. However, another UN convoy took more than 1,000 food parcels to the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian camp, south of Damascus.

Human Rights Watch issued a report yesterday, Razed to the Ground: Syria's Unlawful Neighbourhood Demolitions in 2012 and 2013, which documents the systematic destruction with explosives and bulldozers of neighbourhoods in seven locations, two in Hama, five around Damascus.

HRW says the demolitions served no military purpose and appeared to punish inhabitants supporting the rebels, thereby violating the laws of war.

HRW called on the government to “immediately end demolitions . . . and compensate and provide alternative housing to the victims.”