Syria crisis: Chemical weapons watchdog OPCW urges truce

 

Ahmet Uzumcu wants a "permissible environment" for his inspectors

The global chemical weapons watchdog has called for a ceasefire in Syria to enable it to destroy the stockpiles.

The organisation's chief, Ahmet Uzumcu, said the deadline for destroying equipment was "extremely tight", but was possible if truces were agreed.

Some early work of the inspectors was disrupted when they came under fire.

Under a UN resolution, Syria's chemical weapons production equipment must be destroyed by 1 November and stockpiles must be disposed of by mid-2014.

"If some temporary ceasefires can be established, I think those targets could be reached," said Mr Uzumcu, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He told reporters in The Hague that Syrian authorities had so far been co-operative.

He said the inspectors had 20 sites to visit in the coming weeks and had so far completed inspections at one facility.

An inspections team came under sniper fire on 26 August, but there have been no reported attacks on inspectors since.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • Syria believed to possess 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents including sarin and more potent nerve agent VX
  • US believes arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria acceded to Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified it

The OPCW, mandated under the UN resolution, earlier said it would send a second team to Syria to help meet the deadlines.

Meanwhile, the conflict in Syria continues to rage:

  • Activists say they have taken over a border post on the frontier with Jordan, and a gun-battle in the northern city of Aleppo left at least 10 soldiers dead
  • Two Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights suffered "light injuries" from mortar shells fired from Syria, the Israeli army says
  • France breaks a news blackout to reveal that two journalists have been held in Syria since June, bringing the total number of French reporters held to four.

Some 100,000 people have been killed since the start of the two-year conflict, in which armed opposition groups are seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Chemical weapons are responsible for a comparatively small number of those deaths, and rebels have warned that destroying the weapons will not end the war.

An image grab taken from Syrian television shows an inspector at work at an undisclosed location in Syria on 8 October Syrian state TV has shown images of weapons inspectors at work

On Sunday, members of the joint OPCW-UN mission observed Syrian staff using cutting torches and angle-grinders to destroy missile warheads, aerial bombs, and mixing equipment.

Dismantling work is continuing at undisclosed locations all week.

The diplomacy that led to the disarmament deal was sparked by a poison-gas attack on 21 August in which hundreds were killed.

Western nations blamed forces loyal to President Assad, but he blamed rebel fighters.

The UN estimates that by the end of 2014 more than eight million Syrians could have been forced from their homes, and the number of refugees outside Syria could hit 5.2 million.

 

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