Hague watchdog probes Syria chemical weapons data


syria chemical weaponsThe international chemical weapons watchdog has said that it is studying details submitted by Syria about its arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents.

But a spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was expecting more details from Damascus ahead of deadline for submissions by the end of Saturday.

Syria has agreed to provide a full list of its chemical arms by then.

It is believed to have around 1,000 tonnes of chemical toxins.

Its entire chemical weapons arsenal is meant to be dismantled by the middle of next year under the terms of a US-Russia brokered deal.

The US, UK and France have accused Syrian government forces of carrying out a chemical attack in the Ghouta district of the capital, Damascus, on 21 August, killing hundreds of people.

On Monday, the UN confirmed in a report that the nerve agent sarin had been used in the attack, although it did not apportion blame.

The US has threatened military action over the attack.

But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has blamed rebel groups, and Syria’s ally, Russia, said it had “serious grounds” to believe the attack had been a provocation by the rebels.

Meanwhile discussions are continuing at the United Nations over the text of a Security Council resolution on the disarmament programme – with Russia still opposed to the explicit mention of penalties in the event of Syria failing to co-operate.

In developments on the ground in Syria, two rebel groups have agreed a ceasefire in the northern town of Azaz after two days of fighting that had raised fears of a war within a war.

Timetable unclear

Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is responsible for policing the treaty outlawing chemical arms, said Syria’s submission was an “initial declaration”.

Mr Luhan said it was now being examined by the organisation’s technical secretariat but he declined to say what was in it.

A UN diplomat confirmed to Reuters that details had been submitted, adding: “It’s quite long… and being translated.”

BBC World Affairs Correspondent Paul Adams says that it is not clear how much weapons information the Syrians have handed over, but that it clearly falls some way short.

The US-Russian deal aims to have inspectors on the ground in Syria in November, when they will make an initial assessment and oversee the destruction of certain equipment.

The destruction of all of Syria’s chemical weapons would then be completed by mid-2014.

The core members of the OPCW were expected to vote on the timetable next week.

However, the OPCW said in a statement on Friday that a meeting of its executive council scheduled for Sunday had been postponed, without giving a reason.

“We will announce the new date and time… as soon as possible,” it said.

Once the OPCW agrees to the plan, the UN Security Council will seek to endorse it.

The five permanent members are still discussing the wording of a resolution, with Russia opposing threats of force against Syria.

The White House said on Friday that the threat of military action remained on the table if Syria broke the agreement.

Rebel truce

Separately on Friday, the two rebel groups – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), linked to al-Qaeda, and the larger Western-backed Free Syrian Army – agreed a truce in Azaz, near the Turkish border.

Isis had seized the northern town from the FSA on Wednesday.

The BBC’s Paul Wood, on the border, says that under the ceasefire deal the two rebel sides have agreed to exchange prisoners and hand back property.

Correspondents say that the in-fighting has been some of the worst in recent months between forces seeking to depose President Assad – and threatens further to fragment an opposition already out-gunned by government forces.

The Free Syrian Army has accused Isis of seeking to establish an Islamic state that undermines the rebels’ struggle for a free Syria.

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.

Millions of Syrians have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring nations, and millions more have been internally displaced.

ISIS strongholds in rebel-held and contested areas

north syria  rebel strongholds  map