Syria Is Said to Destroy All Chemical Arms Production Sites

http://nyti.ms/1bFjf5U

LONDON — The
international chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that Syria
had met a key deadline for “the functional destruction” of all the
chemical weapons production and mixing facilities declared to
inspectors, “rendering them inoperable” under a deal brokered by
Russia and the United States. 

While some
experts depicted the announcement as an important milestone, the
measures left President Bashar al-Assad in control of a declared
1,290 tons of chemical weapons that are supposed to be destroyed by
mid-2014, and an array of conventional weapons deployed in the
bloody civil war in which over 100,000 people have
died. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons in The Hague said in a statement
that a joint team of its inspectors and United Nations officials
had visited 21 of the 23 chemical sites Syria declared to them.
While the remaining two sites were too hazardous to visit because
of the country’s continuing civil war, the chemical-making
equipment there had already been moved to other sites which the
inspectors could visit. 

“The Joint
O.P.C.W.-U.N. mission has inspected 21 of the 23 sites declared by
Syria, and 39 of the 41 facilities located at those sites,’’ the
statement said. “The two remaining sites were not visited due to
safety and security concerns. But Syria declared those sites as
abandoned and that the chemical weapons program items they
contained were moved to other declared sites, which were
inspected.” 

“The joint mission is now satisfied
that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria’s declared
critical production and mixing/filling equipment,” it
added. 

“Given the progress made,” it said, “no
further inspection activities are currently
planned.” 

Syria had “met the deadline” set by the
O.P.C.W. Executive Council which had urged the destruction “as soon
as possible and in any case not later than 1 November 2013” of
production and mixing and filling
equipment. 

Syria agreed to the destruction of its
chemical arsenal to avert threatened American and French military
strikes following a poison gas attack in a suburb of Damascus on
Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of
people. 

The United States and its allies
backing Syria’s rebels accused forces loyal to President Bashar
al-Assad of responsibility for the attack. But Mr. Assad blamed the
rebels themselves. 

The next phase
of the timetable set down by the United Nations foresees Syria
destroying its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014. Those
weapons are reported to include mustard gas and sarin, a toxic
nerve agent which the Obama administration says was used in the
Aug. 21 attack. 

Syria has
submitted proposals to completely destroy the arsenal to the
O.P.C.W., which has yet to approve
them. 

“The next milestone for the mission
will be 15 November, by which time the Executive Council must
approve a detailed plan of destruction submitted by Syria to
eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile,” the O.P.C.W. statement
said on Thursday. 

The watchdog
has not specified the precise location of the sites that inspectors
were not able to visit on a mission that showed the perils of
operating in a war zone where some places are under siege and, in
others, battle lines shift
unpredictably. 

Michael Luhan,
a spokesman for the O.P.C.W., said one of the sites was in the area
around Damascus and the other was in the northern Aleppo area,
where news reports say government forces have bombarded the town of
Safira in recent weeks to try to dislodge rebels including Islamist
fighters linked to Al Qaeda. 

“Access to both
sites would be extremely risky,” Mr. Luhan
said. 

In its statement, the O.P.C.W. also
reported that a group of eight inspectors had returned to the
organization’s headquarters in the Netherlands after spending a
month based in Damascus as part of an advance team that arrived
there on Oct. 1. 

Ahmet Uzumcu,
the head of the O.P.C.W., praised their “fortitude and courage” in
“fulfilling the most challenging mission ever undertaken by this
Organization,” the statement said. 

Last week, the
organization said its inspectors in Syria numbered 27, working in
three teams, but that number would be reduced to 15 this week as
staff rotated. 

In his first
monthly report on the operation to the O.P.C.W. executive council,
Mr. Uzumcu says the facilities declared by Syria include eight
mobile filling units, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday.
The authorities in Damascus also said they had approximately 1,290
tons of chemical weapons and 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions,
meaning shells, rockets or
mortars. 

“In addition, the Syrian authorities
have reported finding two cylinders not belonging to them, which
are believed to contain chemical weapons,” the report said, without
elaborating, according to the news
agency. 

Five countries — Canada, Germany, the
Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States — had contributed
some $5.5 million to help finance the destruction program, the
report said. It is not clear where the chemical weapons will be
destroyed. Last week, Norway said it had turned down an American
request to destroy part of the
arsenal.