UN officials: Recent escalation in Syrian civil war could delay work to disable chemical weapons

Chemical disarmament team reportedly begins work in Syria.

UN chemical weapons inspectors in Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
UN chemical weapons inspectors in Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
UN officials in New York have warned that a recent intensification of hostilities in Syria’s civil war has created dangerous conditions on the ground, that could delay or stop UN inspectors from carrying out a Security Council resolution to destroy the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
The officials’ comments came on Thursday as the chemical disarmament team began its work, which involves traversing war-torn areas in order to locate chemical weapons and prepare the arsenal for transport out of the country.
According to the sources, the escalation in hostilities between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and armed opposition groups has put the lives of the UN inspection team in danger.
The UN team aims to disable Syria’s chemical arms production sites by early November. Assad’s current stockpile is believed to consist of over 1,000 tons of sarin and other chemical agents.
After overcoming a long diplomatic deadlock between Russia and Western powers last week to pass the resolution to rid Syria of chemical weapons, the 15-member Security Council finally agreed on Wednesday to a non-binding statement aimed at boosting aid access. It urged Syria’s government to allow cross-border aid deliveries, and called on combatants in the country to agree to humanitarian pauses in fighting and safe passage for the aid convoys.
Millions of people in Syria are in desperate need of help as a result of the two-and-ahalf- year-long civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people. Yet aid has slowed to a trickle, because of violence and excessive red tape.
UN aid chief Valerie Amos said that if the council’s request were fully implemented, humanitarian groups could help some two million people who have been unreachable for many months.
“Our task now is to turn these strong words into meaningful action for the children, women and men who continue to be the victims of the brutality and violence,” Amos told reporters.
The Security Council’s statement urges Syrian government authorities to “take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations, and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles” by “promptly facilitating safe and unhindered humanitarian access to people in need, through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries.”
Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, said the government would study the statement before responding.
Shlomo Shamir writes for The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication, Sof Hashavua. Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this report.