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Chemical Disarmers Audit Three Locations in Syria

A poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad adorns a wall as a U.N. vehicle carrying inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Wednesday leaves a hotel in Damascus. OPCW personnel so far have traveled to three locations as part of an operation to eliminate Assad's chemical arsenal, a spokesman said on Thursday (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images). A poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad adorns a wall as a U.N. vehicle carrying inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Wednesday leaves a hotel in Damascus. OPCW personnel so far have traveled to three locations as part of an operation to eliminate Assad's chemical arsenal, a spokesman said on Thursday (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images).

An international watchdog on Thursday said its crews traveled to three Syrian locations in the first days of a fast-track effort to dismantle chemical-warfare materials controlled by Damascus, the Associated Press reported.

The auditors' destinations to date were in areas held by Bashar Assad's government, making them fairly accessible amid Syria's civil war, according to Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Damascus admitted its possession of a chemical arsenal and agreed to its destruction just last month, as the United States was preparing a potential military response to a nerve-gas strike weeks earlier in rebel-controlled territory.

Reaching other locations would require 27 disarmament personnel to traverse land controlled by the opposition, according to AP. Brokering short-term truces could be critical for international officials to reach some of the sites, OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü said on Wednesday in The Hague, Netherlands.

Üzümcü told reporters that more than 20 initial locations are due to receive visits following initial declarations by Damascus. U.S. intelligence, though, indicates Assad's regime controls roughly 45 facilities for producing or storing chemical weapons.

Asked about the disparity, the U.S. State Department noted that the chemical watchdog's governing body and the U.N. Security Council both called for Damascus to "permit the OPCW unfettered, immediate access to all other sites of interest."

Assad's government is expected to issued a more complete declaration of its chemical-warfare inventory by Oct. 27, according to a State Department press release.

A European envoy on Wednesday said it is an "open question" if Damascus has been adequately transparent, the New York Times reported.

The chemical-arms disclosure anticipated by Oct. 27 "will give us some ability to say how serious they are,” the insider said from The Hague.

Assad loyalists were gaining military momentum near al-Safira, the site of one alleged chemical-arms production site, United Press International reported on Wednesday.

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