UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations (UN) warned on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) that inspectors face a yearlong mission of unprecedented danger in trying to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, as rebels launched a major offensive.
In a report to the UN Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it would take 100 foreign experts to complete “an operation the likes of which, quite simply, has never been tried before.”
Ban set out a blueprint for the most dangerous disarmament operation ever staged, even as the United States (US) and Russia praised steps taken so far by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
But a major rebel assault in northwest Syria highlighted the looming threats to inspectors from the joint United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission.
The two international bodies have had to speedily gather a team after a Security Council resolution endorsed a Russian-US disarmament plan on September 27.
The plan was launched after a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21, in which hundreds—Washington claims around 1,400—people died.
US President Barack Obama initially threatened a punitive military strike but when he struggled to win international or even domestic support for such a move agreed to a Russian disarmament plan.
Russia and the United States have the ambitiously aim to seize and destroy Syria’s huge chemical weapons arsenal, estimated at 1,000 tons, by mid-2014.
Some 19 OPCW arms experts and 16 UN logistics and security personnel are in Syria and have started to destroy weapons production facilities.
Ban recommended the team be increased to about 100 scientists, logistics and security experts who will stay for up to a year.
The mission will have bases in Damascus and Cyprus.
Ban highlighted the threat to the experts and Syrian civilians from the sarin, mustard gas and other chemical horrors, which are to be moved amid the “carnage” of Assad’s daily battle with rebels.
The experts will have to work in “dangerous and volatile” conditions, particularly in urban areas such as Damascus, Homs and Aleppo, the UN leader warned.
“Heavy artillery, air strikes, mortar barrages and the indiscriminate shelling of civilians areas are commonplace and battle lines shift quickly,” he added.
Syria has already made a declaration of its weapons facilities. And the UN resolution set a November 1 deadline for the eradication of production and chemical mixing facilities.