Chemical weapons watchdog plans to start Syria probe as UN due to vote on resolution

OPCW advance team to arrive in Syria on Monday; inspectors will have 30 days to visit all chemical weapons facilities.

By REUTERS
September 27, 2013 13:38
3 minute read.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu.

Ban Ki-moon and Ahmet Uzumcu of the OPCW 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Michael Kooren)

AMSTERDAM - Experts from the world's chemical weapons watchdog will begin inspecting Syria's stockpile of toxic munitions by Tuesday, according to a draft agreement obtained by Reuters.

The draft, which is due to be voted on Friday night, calls on members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to make cash donations to fund Syria's fast-tracked destruction operation.

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On Thursday, the United States and Russia agreed on a UN Security Council draft resolution that would demand Syria give up its chemical arms.

The UN Security Council Resolution, also to be voted on Friday, does not refer to the use of force as a means to enforce the destruction plan, a point which Washington had pressed for.

The 41-member executive council of the OPCW is due to discuss and vote on Friday night. It needs a simple majority to be passed, but decisions at the body are normally agreed upon by consensus.

It requests urgent funding to hire inspectors and technical experts to destroy what Western intelligence agencies believe is about 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agents, built up over decades and spread over dozens of locations.

An OPCW official said an advance team would head for Syria on Monday.

Established to enforce the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW has an annual budget of under $100 million and less than 500 staff. It does not have the manpower to carry out the task without significantly increasing resources.

Experts have said it will be risky and expensive to destroy the chemicals in Syria, where a civil war has killed more than 100,000 and displaced millions more.

Crisis in Syria - full JPost.com coverage

Syria has just nine months to do what some countries, including Russia and the United States, have taken more than a decade to do.

Unfetteded access

Syria is instructed to provide inspectors with security and "immediate and unfettered" access to all sites. A failure to do so will trigger a meeting by the OPCW's core members within 24 hours, the draft says.

The OPCW inspectors will have 30 days to visit all chemical weapons facilities declared by Syria to the organization last week, it states.

It is still unclear where and how the chemicals stockpile, the details of which have not been made public by the OPCW, will be destroyed. For most countries, the process often takes years, but Syria has been given until mid 2014.

The draft contains roughly the same destruction deadlines in a Russian-American deal brokered earlier this month. Syria must submit additional details of its arsenal, including munition types, amounts of precursors and toxins, and the location of all storage and production sites within a week.

Syria will appoint a point person within the Syrian regime for chemical weapons and by November 1 must have completed the destruction of all chemical weapon production and mixing/filling facilities, the draft states.

UN INSPECTIONS

UN chemical weapons inspectors in Syria are investigating seven cases of alleged chemical or biological weapons use, including three incidents around Damascus after the Aug. 21 attack which almost triggered US air strikes.

The inspectors expect to finalise their work in Syria on Monday and issue a report by late October that will give more details of the Aug. 21 incident which they have already said involved the use of sarin gas, a statement from the United Nations in Damascus said on Friday.

The United States and its Western allies said the UN's initial report showed Damascus was behind the attack, which killed hundreds of people. President Bashar Assad's government has denied the accusation, blaming rebels instead.

The incidents also include an alleged chemical weapons attack in March in the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where authorities say rebels killed 25 people, including 16 soldiers. Rebels said government forces were behind it.

The two other cases from earlier this year both date back to April - one in the Aleppo district of Sheikh Maqsoud and another in the town of Saraqeb in the northern province of Idlib.

The three most recent incidents were in Bahhariyeh and Jobar, both east of central Damascus, on Aug. 22 and 24, and Ashrafiat Sahnaya to the southwest of the capital on Aug. 25, the UN statement said.

The team returned to Damascus on Wednesday to resume its work and "expects to finalise its activities in the country by Monday," the statement said.


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