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OPCW Says Violence Has Kept Inspectors from Visiting One Syrian Site
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Wednesday said violence from Syria's civil war has kept agency officials from visiting one of the country's declared chemical weapons sites, which they must inspect as part of a U.N.-brokered agreement, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"We weren't able to get sufficient guarantees to send our team in," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said in an interview. "The battle lines shift quite frequently. ... It's a fluid situation."
OPCW inspectors on the ground are working quickly in order to meet an aggressive timeline for destroying all of Syria's approximately 1,000 metric tons of chemical warfare materials by the middle of 2014. The 11 sites they have conducted verification activities at so far have all been in territory controlled by the Bashar Assad regime, Luhan said.
However, the inspection team's pace of work could slow down as other declared chemical sites lie in areas that are besieged by violence from the nation's civil war.
In recent days, mortar attacks and bomb explosions have occurred near the OPCW officials' hotel in Damascus, though it is not clear if the inspectors are being specifically targeted, the Associated Press reported.
"In terms of the security situation there are always concerns but the team so far has, with the cooperation of the Syrian authorities, managed to conduct its work unimpeded," OPCW senior official Malik Ellahi said to journalists at The Hague in the Netherlands, where his organization is based.
The OPCW team is working to meet an agency deadline of Nov. 1 for authenticating all of the chemical weapons declared by Damascus and disabling the regime's ability to produce and mix more materials. In the initial part of the disarmament program, inspectors are destroying the chemical-production plant's control panels and eliminating munitions that could be filled with chemical agents.
"Cheap, quick and low-tech," is how Luhan described the disarmament work that has taken place thus far. "Nothing fancy."
Assad agreed to accept the destruction of his prized chemical arsenal and to join the Chemical Weapons Convention as the United States weighed a military strike against his country following his regime's widely assumed Aug. 21 sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb. However, the 20-plus chemical sites Damascus declared to the international community fall short of the total of approximately 50 chemical-related facilities that U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials think the Assad regime has created.
The chemical-disarmament organization anticipates it will be able to travel to all declared facilities, even those in rebel-controlled areas, as part of a joint U.N. mission that is working out ceasefires with opposition fighters, said Ellahi, the special advisor to OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü.
He added: "In terms of the security situation there are always concerns, but the team so far has had the cooperation of the Syrian authorities and managed to conduct its work unimpeded," Reuters reported.
Everything the OPCW has authenticated thus far "has been according to the disclosure" of the Syrian government, Ellahi said. "We have not found anything of significance which we should be worried about."
What is still unclear is specifically how the chemical-warfare materials will be destroyed over the coming months, and whether they will be eliminated on-site in Syria or transported out of the country for disposal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in an interview with National Public Radio said he would like to see the chemical weapons consolidated and removed from Syria.
"The fact is that these weapons can be removed ... because we know the locations, the locations have been declared, the locations are being secured," Kerry said. "My hope is that much of this material will be moved as rapidly [as] possibly into one location, and hopefully on a ship, and removed from the region."
International efforts to broker a peace arrangement between the Syrian rebels and the Assad regime will be given another chance at a conference in Geneva from Nov. 23-24, Reuters reported on Thursday. Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said he had confirmed the dates with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
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