Ban: Syria on Target to Meet Chemical Weapons Deadline

Syria is on target to meet a deadline to destroy its chemical weapons production equipment, says UN leader.

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Elad Benari,

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
AFP photo

Syria is on target to meet a looming deadline to destroy its chemical weapons production equipment, even though inspectors have yet to visit all sites, UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Monday.

"The functional destruction of the declared capacity of the Syrian Arab Republic is expected to be completed as planned by November 1," Ban said in a report to the UN Security Council obtained by the AFP news agency.

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN have however only been to 21 of the 23 sites declared by President Bashar Al-Assad's government because of the country's conflict.

The OPCW said in a statement on Monday that "efforts to ensure the conditions necessary for safe access to those sites will continue." Previously the group has called for local, short-term truces to enable their inspection of the war-torn country's chemical weapon stockpiles.

Destruction of the chemical production and mixing facilities is the first major deadline of a tight timetable set out by the Security Council to eliminate all of Syria's chemical weapons by June 30 next year.

Syria still has an estimated 1,000 tons of chemicals to be destroyed and no plan has yet been agreed for the risky operation, officials said.

The inspectors have "confirmed the functional destruction of the production and mixing and filling capabilities at all the sites" inspected so far, Ban said, according to AFP.

The UN leader stressed that the deadline should be met "a mere" 34 days after the 15-nation Security Council ordered the destruction of all of Syria's chemical weapons.

"In all of these activities the government of the Syrian Arab Republic has extended consistent, constructive cooperation," Ban said.

There are 22 OPCW experts and about 50 UN staff supervising the destruction program so far, the UN report said.

Syria has declared 41 facilities at the 23 sites and so far only 37 have been inspected, Ban added. He said they would go to the last sites "as soon as conditions permit." The report did not say if the unsafe sites were in government or opposition territory.

The UN report said security "remains difficult and unpredictable" for the inspectors because of the 31 month old war which the UN says has left well over 100,000 dead.

The OPCW's mission in Syria came on the heels of international outrage over a chemical weapons attack on August 21. Rockets filled with the nerve agent sarin were fired at suburbs of the capital, Damascus, killing hundreds of people.

The United States and other western countries have blamed the Assad government for the chemical weapon attack. The government has blamed Syrian rebels.

The inspectors’ work in Syria is based on the deal made by Russia and the U.S. after the August 21 chemical weapons.

The deal stipulates that the regime’s stockpile be dismantled by the middle of next year and the UN mission is expected to continue until then. The deal averted a U.S. military strike in Syria.

Syria has won praise from both the members of the mission as well as from the U.S. for its rapid compliance with the UN resolution.