OPCW: removal of Syrian chemical weapons nearly complete

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, April 25, 2014

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government nearly completed the surrender of its chemical weapons stockpile, according to the international nuclear watchdog.

The joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN task team charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal said 92.5 percent of the stockpile has been surrendered.

Damascus had pledged to have all of its stockpile removed from Syria by Sunday, with the weapons due to be destroyed by June 30.

On Wednesday, UN Security Council members called for a probe into new claims of a chlorine gas attack in a rebel bastion.

Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, who holds the council's rotating presidency, said there was concern over reports about chlorine gas killing and injuring several people, and called for an investigation.

There have been conflicting accounts of an alleged chlorine attack on opposition-held Kafr Zita, with the government and the opposition trading blame.

Russia said on Friday that allegations of the use of toxic chemicals by Syrian government forces are false.

"Accusations against government forces of supposed cases of the use of poisonous chemicals continue to be fabricated," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "According to reliable evidence the Russian side possesses, such allegations do not correspond to reality."

Under the terms of a US-Russian brokered deal that averted the threat of US military action last year, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical stockpiles.

The deal was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August killed hundreds of people. While the final destruction of the stockpile appears imminent, analysts were raising the matter of production sites.

Sico van der Meer of the Clingendael Institute said "they will complete the removal, but the question of production sites is still there".

Damascus wants to seal the sites, which it says have been rendered unusable, but Western countries want them completely destroyed, fearing they could be re-activated.

"Syria is playing for time. As long as the process of destroying its chemical weapons is under way, the international community is not going to bother it too much," Van der Meer said.

Despite the violence, the government plans a presidential election on June 3 that is expected to return Assad to office.

On Thursday, regime-tolerated opponent Hassan Abdullah al-Nuri became the second candidate to register his candidacy, a day after independent MP Maher al-Hajjar did so.

In southern Damascus, the UN was allowed to distribute 300 parcels of food aid in besieged Yarmouk, after a 15-day hiatus, UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said.

More than 100 people have died in the past year from food and medical shortages in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp.

However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said access for foreign aid for millions of Syrians desperately in need has not improved overall, violating a Security Council resolution passed two months ago.

Almost 3.5 million people remain without access to essential goods and services, including life-saving medicines, in a "clear violation" of international law, said Ban.

Syria's conflict is estimated to have killed more than 150,000 people, with millions having fled their homes. The United Nations stopped updating its estimated death toll in July, saying it no longer had enough reliable sources on the ground.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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