Syrian rebels rejected a Russian claim that they are seizing coastal territory to disrupt their country's chemical disarmament, Turkey's Anadolu Agency reports.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly issued the accusation after Syrian opposition forces fought for control of areas in the embattled country's Latakia province, the news service indicated on Saturday. Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels have been picking up government warfare chemicals arriving at the provincial capital -- a port city of the same name -- in an effort to remove and destroy the regime's entire stockpile before July.
Hisham Marwah, legal committee head for the opposition's Syrian National Council, said Moscow's assertions are intended to excuse any failure by its Damascus ally to eliminate the "chemical weapons within the allotted deadline."
Marwah asserted that Russia's comments throw doubt on Moscow's commitment to eliminating the lethal materials stockpiled by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
Meanwhile, a former British military officer said he believed that rebel forces have attacked "every single" chemical-arms shipment to the port city to date, ABC News reported on Saturday.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon added that Damascus "has put massive military resources into these convoys, supporting them with tanks and air protection. They also put forces down the road before the convoys, almost blasting through to Latakia."
Faisal Mekdad, Assad's deputy foreign minister, voiced concerns about rebel threats to the disarmament effort in a Sunday meeting with Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of a U.N.-OPCW mission overseeing the project, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.
The discussion of possible threats to the chemical-arms shipments came as President Obama considered whether to supply certain Syrian rebel groups with portable anti-air missiles, the Australian Associated Press reported.