UN Team Begins Syria Disarmament Mission

As UN experts leave Damascus, a team of 20 inspectors plan to destroy Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons.

Kochava Rozenbaum ,

Syrian soldiers (illustrative)
Syrian soldiers (illustrative)
AFP file

A day after UN inspectors wrapped up their investigation in Damascus, a disarmament team is due to begin an operation to rid Syria of its chemical arms on Tuesday. 

A target date has been set to finish the operation in mid 2014 and will be one of the largest and most dangerous of its kind.

The team of 20 inspectors from the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will arrive in Damascus on Tuesday to implement a UN resolution that ordered the elimination of Syria's chemical arms.

The arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemicals stored at an estimated 45 sites across the war-torn country.

The outgoing UN team of chemical arms experts, that ended its second mission to Syria to probe seven alleged gas attacks, hopes to present a final report by late October.

Earlier this month, they submitted an interim report that confirmed the use of the nerve agent sarin in August 21 attacks on the outskirts of Damascus.

Syria denied allegations of deliberately killing hundreds of civilians with nerve agents, but agreed to relinquish its chemical arsenal, effectively heading off a strike, under a US-Russian deal which was enshrined in the landmark UN resolution.

"At this point, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the information provided by the Syrian regime," an OPCW official said on Sunday.

In his first comments since the UN resolution was passed on Friday, Assad on Sunday told Italy's Rai News 24 his regime "will comply". He was quoted as saying, "history proves that we have always honored all treaties we have signed." 

Rebels Launch Attacks

As the ongoing conflict in Syria rages, Syrian rebels launched a mortar shell yesterday, striking the Chinese embassy in central Damascus and slightly injuring a Syrian employee. The rebels have targeted the center of the Syrian capital before, where many embassies and senior Syrian officials are based. 

That attack came a day after a mortar shell struck the Russian embassy in the same part of the capital, injuring three people. The embassy attack came the same day that Russia criticized what it said were Western attempts to use a Syrian chemical arms disarmament deal to seek a UN resolution threatening force against Assad's government.

The mortar hit the embassy on Monday morning, damaging the compound's walls and shattering some windows. Sources said that the mortar may have been launched from the southern suburbs of Damascus.