Race to destroy Syria weapons starts

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International inspectors began destroying Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and the machinery used to create it, a United Nations official said yesterday.

The inspectors are racing against a tight deadline aiming to eliminate President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons programme within nine months.

The move kicks off the ambitious programme, prompted by a chemical weapons attack in mid-August that killed hundreds of civilians on the outskirts of Damascus and brought a rare consensus at the UN.

Under a Security Council resolution in September, the first stage is to destroy Syria’s capability to produce chemical weapons by November 1.

The official, who works alongside inspectors, hoped that by last night, a combination of both weapons and some production equipment would be put out of order.

“Today is the first day of the phase of destruction and disabling. Verification will also continue.

“The plan was that two types categories of materials would be destroyed: one is equipment
for making (weapons) – filling
and mixing equipment, some of it mobile, and some it static. The other is actual munitions,” he said.

He could not confirm what specifically would be destroyed, nor where the destruction took place.

An advance team of disarmament experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria earlier this month to set up the broader operation to dismantle and ultimately destroy the chemical programme, believed to include some 1,000 tons of toxic agents.

In an interview in a state-run newspaper yesterday, President Assad said the Syrian regime began producing chemical weapons in the 1980s to “fill the technical gap in the traditional weapons between Syria and Israel”.