BEIRUT - Syria won foreign praise on Monday for starting to destroy its chemical arsenal, although an opposition activist said the world was merely giving President Bashar Assad time to kill more people with conventional weapons.
An official from the international mission overseeing the stockpile's elimination said Damascus had made an excellent start, and the United States acknowledged its rapid compliance with a UN resolution on destroying chemical weapons as extremely significant.
The official described Sunday's operations in which Syrian forces used cutting torches and angle grinders to render missile warheads and bombs unusable. However, he noted that this was only the start of work that is due to last until mid-2014 and requires the cooperation of all sides.
"It was an excellent first day, with the stress on the word 'first'," the official told Reuters by telephone from Damascus, declining to be named.
Assad's government, fighting a civil war in which more than 100,000 people have died, agreed to destroy the chemical weapons after a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus killed hundreds of people in August.
While the world's worst chemical weapons attack in 25 years may not be repeated in Syria, both the rebels and Assad's forces continue to kill with conventional weapons daily and foreign governments are desperate to end a conflict that risks spreading across much of the region.