Syria’s entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal, inspectors said Thursday, as international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi wrapped up a visit to muster support for peace talks.
Meanwhile, Israel has reportedly carried out an air strike on a Syrian military installation to prevent a missile delivery to the regime’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
“All stocks of chemical weapons and agents have been placed under seals that are impossible to break,” Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons spokesman Christian Chartier said, adding that the seals were “tamper proof.”
“These are 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents (which can be used to make weapons) and 290 tonnes of chemical weapons,” Chartier told AFP in The Hague.
The OPCW also said Syria’s chemical arms production equipment had been destroyed.
Inspectors had until Friday to visit all the sites and destroy all production and filling equipment in accordance with a timeline laid down by the OPCW and a UN Security Council resolution.
The resolution, stating that the arsenal must be destroyed by mid-2014, followed a US-Russian deal to avert military strikes on Syria after chemical weapons attacks near Damascus in August.
The West blamed those attacks, which killed hundreds, on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which denied all responsibility and, in turn, blamed rebels.
OPCW head of field operations, Jerry Smith, told the BBC his team had “personally observed all the destruction activities” of chemicals stored in 23 sites.
The United States is “increasingly confident” the chemical arsenal will be eliminated by June 30, Thomas Countryman, a senior State Department official in charge of non-proliferation issues said.
IHS Jane’s Consulting hailed the “milestone” but cautioned that the work was far from over, noting that the entire arsenal is still under regime control.
“This is a very hurried process that has significant and real uncertainty associated with it. Only when the weapons are destroyed or removed from Syria will it be complete,” IHS Jane’s director David Reeths told Agence France-Presse.
Regime wary, opposition divided
The inspectors’ report came as Brahimi met in Damascus with opposition members tolerated by the regime, part of a regional tour to garner support for proposed peace talks, dubbed Geneva II. He travels to Beirut on Friday.
Brahimi has been struggling to persuade a wary regime and an increasingly divided opposition to attend the conference.
On Wednesday, he met Assad for less than an hour, during which the president criticised foreign interference in Syria.
“The Syrian people are the only ones who have the right to decide on Syria’s future,” state media quoted Assad as telling Brahimi.
Earlier this month, Assad cast doubt on the possibility of his regime attending the Geneva talks, saying he would not negotiate with any group tied to the rebels or to foreign states.
The main opposition National Coalition has said it will refuse to take part in any talks unless Assad’s resignation is on the table, and rebel groups have warned participants will be considered traitors.
Meanwhile, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television reported that Israel had hit a Syrian air base in Latakia province targeting a shipment of surface-to-surface missiles destined for Hezbollah.
A US official confirmed to Agence France-Presse that “there was an Israeli strike” but gave no detail on the location or the target, while Israeli officials refused to comment.
Al-Arabiya quoted the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying explosions took place Wednesday near Latakia at an air defence base.
In May, Israel carried out two air strikes inside Syria, and a senior Israeli official told Agence France-Presse both targets were Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah.
On the ground, the Syrian Revolution General Commission said regime forces had seized the town of Sfeira in Aleppo province after a 27-day siege, and the Aleppo Media Center, a network of activists said rebels had completely withdrawn.
Mahmoud Merae (L), a member of the authorized Syrian opposition, talks to reporters after meeting with UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at the Sheraton hotel on October 31, 2013 in Damascus
AFP – Louai Beshara
The army maintains several arms factories in the area.
The Observatory also reported a rebel mortar attack on Jaramana, a mixed Christian-Druze suburb of Damascus, that killed two women and wounded several people, and said at least eight other people were killed in an army rocket attack on southern Damascus’s Al-Hajar Al-Aswad neighbourhood.
More than 120,000 people have been killed in the 31-month rebellion against the Assad regime triggered by his bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests.