• Syria disarmament on track

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    DAMASCUS: Syria is set to hand over a detailed plan for destroying its chemical arsenal on Thursday, the international watchdog said, as a rebel attack near Damascus triggered widespread power outages.

    But prospects for a peace conference, which the United Nations (UN) is trying to convene in parallel with the disarmament process, looked dim after key opposition leaders spurned efforts by Western and Arab powers to persuade them to attend.

    Syrian authorities were working to restore power several hours after rebels attacked a gas pipeline, causing blackouts across the country and setting off a huge fire near the airport, where a key power plant is located.

    Electricity Minister Emad Khamis said power was being “gradually” restored to some provinces after authorities secured an alternative source of fuel for the plant, according to the official SANA news agency.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said power outages were reported in the Damascus region as well as in Aleppo in the north and Homs in the center.

    “It is likely this was a large-scale operation planned well in advance,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

    In September, a similar outage was caused after a high voltage power line was sabotaged.

    Also on Wednesday, a car bomb hit a checkpoint in a western suburb of Damascus, causing multiple casualties among the troops manning it, the Observatory said, and rebels shelled two of Damascus’s main squares, killing five people and wounding at least 22.

    The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), meanwhile, said the Syrian government was expected to hand over its disarmament plan by Thursday.

    The plan is the next step for Damascus under the terms of a United States-Russian deal to head off military strikes on Syria which calls for all its chemical weapons and production facilities to be destroyed by mid-2014.

    President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has already handed over an inventory of its chemicals, weapons and facilities, and a joint UN-OPCW team has been in Syria since the start of the month inspecting and destroying them.

    The team has now checked 18 of 23 declared sites in Syria, destroying production equipment at almost all of them, Luhan said.

    AFP

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