DAMASCUS: International experts preparing to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal said they had made “encouraging” progress on Thursday (Friday in Manila) and expect to carry out on-site inspections within days.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 was passed after gas attacks outside Damascus killed hundreds in August, an atrocity that prompted the United States (US) to threaten military strikes on Syria and later led to a rare US-Russian disarmament accord.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations said the inspectors, who arrived on Tuesday, had made “encouraging initial progress” following a day of meetings with Syrian authorities.
“Documents handed over yesterday by the Syrian government look promising, according to team members, but further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered,” it said.
The team said it hopes to begin on-site inspections and the initial disabling of equipment “within the next week.”
Nine experts, part of a 19-member team from The Hague-based OPCW, earlier left their Damascus hotel in three cars, heading for an unknown destination.
The team faces a daunting task, as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is understood to have more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned weapons stored at dozens of sites.
Their immediate aim is to disable production sites by late October or early November using “expedient methods” including explosives, sledgehammers and pouring concrete, an OPCW official said.
It is the first mission in the organization’s history to be undertaken in a country embroiled in a civil war.
A popular uprising that began in March 2011 in Syria has snowballed into a full-blown conflict that has claimed more than 115,000 lives, forced millions to flee, and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged towns and neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, the Security Council demanded immediate and “unhindered” access to the trapped civilians, in a non-binding statement that diplomats said sends a strong signal to Damascus.
UN aid agencies say there are more than 2.1 million refugees and nearly another six million people displaced inside Syria, adding that they have not had access to about two million trapped civilians for months.
The statement says there should be “unhindered humanitarian access” across the conflict lines “and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries.”
Syria has blocked aid missions from those nations, saying supplies will go to rebels.
Washington said it will allow non-essential staff to return to its embassy in Beirut, which was partially evacuated in September when military strikes appeared imminent.
Turkey’s parliament, meanwhile, extended for one year a mandate authorizing military action against neighboring Syria if necessary.