Syria chemical disarmament team begins mission
Damascus: International disarmament experts began on Wednesday their mission to catalogue Syria`s arsenal of chemical weapons under a deal that will see the arms turned over for destruction by mid-2014.
The 19-member team from The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus Tuesday to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2118 ordering the elimination of Syria`s chemical arms.
A day earlier, Syria`s opposition warned of a "humanitarian disaster" in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham, one of the areas reportedly targeted in an August 21 sarin attack that killed hundreds of people.
And Syria`s information minister insisted that President Bashar al-Assad would stay in office and could run for re-election next year.
Assad`s departure is a key demand of the opposition, who insist it must be a pillar of a mooted Geneva peace conference.
The disarmament team includes 19 OPCW inspectors and 14 UN staffers who drove to a five-star Damascus hotel in a 20-vehicle UN convoy from Beirut.
They set up a logistics base after arriving, but it was not immediately clear when they would begin visiting sites. No movement had been seen at their hotel by early Wednesday afternoon.
"In the coming days, their efforts are expected to focus on verifying information provided by the Syrian authorities and the initial planning phase of helping the country destroy its chemical weapons production facilities," a UN statement said.
This should be completed by November 1, it added.
The task is huge, as Syria`s arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemicals stored at an estimated 45 sites across the war-torn country.
The mission is the first in OPCW history to take place in a country wracked by civil war.
The OPCW group arrived as a team of UN experts left after probing seven alleged gas attacks for a report expected to be released in late October.
The UN team visited Syria in August, and later confirmed that sarin was used in the August 21 attacks that prompted the United States to threaten military action against Damascus.
Instead, the United States and Russia hammered out a deal now enshrined in the UN resolution under which Syria will turn over its chemical arms.
Assad has said he will comply with the resolution and Syria has turned over documents detailing its chemical arsenal.
The OPCW says it has no reason to doubt the information, which its inspectors will cross-check in Syria.
Top on the inspection list will be production sites due to be disabled by late October or early November.
"According to the OPCW-UN Security Council deadline, the entire chemical weapons stockpile must be eliminated in the first half of next year," said the UN statement.
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