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Syria: Weapons Team Officially Starts Work

Six weeks after hundreds die in sarin gas attack, UN team begins dismantling Syria's chemical weapons stock.
By Adam Ross
First Publish: 10/3/2013, 6:38 PM

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

News agencies said Thursday a team of nine weapons inspectors set off in three cars from their hotel in an undisclosed location, to begin the work of removing Syria's chemical weapons.

AFP reported that 20 experts from the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), had officially begun work. 

The team arrived in Syria on Tuesday to implement a UN resolution that ordered the elimination of Syria's chemical arms.

The OPCW team faces a daunting task, as President Bashar al-Assad's regime is understood to have stockpiled more than 1,000 tons of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemical weapons at an estimated 45 sites across the war-torn country. 

Their immediate aim is to disable chemical weapons production sites by late October or early November by "expedient methods" including the use of explosives, sledgehammers or pouring in concrete, an OPCW official said. A target date has been set to finish the entire operation by mid-2014.

It is the first time in the OPCW's history that a mission to destroy chemical weapons is being undertaken in a country embroiled in a civil war. The Syria conflict has killed more than 115,000 people, forced millions more to flee as refugees and trapped hundreds of thousands.

An outgoing UN team of chemical arms experts who had been probing seven alleged gas attacks, has confirmed the use of the nerve agent sarin in August 21 attacks on the outskirts of Damascus.

The deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons was brokered by Russia, removing what looked to be an imminent US threat to launch a punitive strike against the Assad regime. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said Syria would face punishment if it hindered the UN in putting its chemical weapons out of use.

"The United Nations Security Council will mete out a series of punishments in the face of any violation of Syria's commitments to the removal of its chemical weapons," Lavrov said.