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Syria Meets Deadline, Hands in Data on Chemical Arsenal

Syria hands over complete data on its chemical arsenal, meeting a Saturday deadline to avert military strikes
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/22/2013, 5:35 AM

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
AFP photo

Syria has handed over complete data on its chemical arsenal to the world's watchdog, meeting a Saturday deadline to avert military strikes, AFP reports.

There were indications on Friday that the Syrian government would not make the weekend's deadline.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was examining the Syrian information that was the focus of a U.S.-Russian deal to head off U.S. strikes against Syria.

The disclosure came as a senior Kremlin official said Russia may change its position on ally Syria if it sees any "cheating" by the regime, according to AFP.

Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov did not clarify, in comments reported by Russian news agencies, but added he expected Syria's chemical arsenal to be disclosed within a week.

UN envoys, meanwhile, have struggled to agree on the wording of a resolution to enshrine the deal, which stipulates that Syria's chemical arsenal must be destroyed by mid-2014.

The "OPCW has confirmed that it has received the expected disclosure from the Syrian government regarding its chemical weapons program," it said on Saturday.

"The Technical Secretariat is currently reviewing the information received."

On Friday the OPCW said it had received initial data from Syria and was expecting more.

The U.S.-Russian agreement, worked out after Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, requires Syria to hand over its entire chemical arsenal.

It has received widespread international support, including from China, whose Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing would "support the early launch of the process to destroy Syria's chemical weapons".

Ivanov cautioned on Saturday that the process could be complicated because the Syrian army does not control the entire country.

"We still don't know where the chemical weapons are located geographically. I think this will become clear within a week," he told a conference in Stockholm, according to AFP.

Russia is a key backer of Syria and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Britain, China, France and the United States.

Since Monday the panel has wrangled over the wording of a resolution to back the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal.

Washington, Paris and London want a strongly worded resolution, possibly under the UN Charter's Chapter VII, which could allow the use of force or sanctions to ensure compliance -- a move Moscow opposes.

On Saturday, meanwhile, regime aircraft attacked targets nationwide, including in the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo and Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The watchdog, which relies on reports from activists and medics on the ground, also reported that troops, backed by Alawite pro-regime militias, killed 15 people in the Sunni village of Sheikh Hadid in Hama province late on Friday.

It said the army and militiamen also retook from rebels two nearby villages, while state news agency SANA reported the recapture of three villages including Sheikh Hadid.