International

Syria files weapons destruction plan

The international watchdog overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal said the process is on schedule

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) director-general Ahmet Uzumcu speaks during a press conference in The Hague on Oct. 11, 2013.
Bas Czerwinski/AFP/Getty Images

Syria has filed details of its poison gas and nerve agent program and an initial plan to destroy its arsenal to the world's chemical weapons regulator, the organization announced Sunday.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that Syria completed its declaration as part of a strict and ambitious timeline that aims to eliminate the lethal stockpile by mid-2014.

The group, based in The Hague, Netherlands, and which was awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, said Syria made the declaration Thursday. The announcement provides "the basis on which plans are devised for a systematic, total and verified destruction of declared chemical weapons and production facilities," the group said.

Such declarations made to the organization are confidential. No details of Syria's program were released.

Syria already had given preliminary details to the OPCW when it said it was joining the organization in September. The move warded off possible U.S. military strikes in the aftermath of an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb. Syria denies responsibility for the deadly attack.

OPCW inspectors were hastily dispatched to Syria this month and have visited most of the 23 sites Damascus declared. They have also begun overseeing destruction work to ensure that machines used to mix chemicals and fill munitions with poisons are no longer functioning.

Syria is believed to possess around 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin.

It has not yet been decided how or where destruction of Syria's chemical weapons will happen. Syria's declaration includes a general plan for destruction that will be considered by the OPCW's 41-nation executive council on Nov. 15.

Norway's foreign minister announced Friday that the country had turned down a U.S. request to receive the bulk of Syria's chemical weapons for destruction, because it doesn't have the capabilities to complete the task by the deadlines given.

Rebels reject deal

Meanwhile armed opposition groups in Syria said Sunday that they will not attend the Geneva II peace talks to end the country's nearly three-year-old civil war, saying that negotiating with the government of President Bashar al-Assad would be an act of betrayal.

The talks, set to take place Nov. 23, have been repeatedly postponed amid wrangling among the Syrian opposition, and a dispute over which countries, including Iran, should participate.

In the latest blow to the peace talks, 19 of the groups fighting to topple Assad issued a statement saying: "We announce that the Geneva II conference is not, nor will it ever be our people's choice or our revolution's demand."

The statement was read out by Suqur al-Sham brigade chief Ahmad Eissa al-Sheikh in a video posted online.

The powerful opposition group's statement comes on Sunday as fighting rages on near the border with neighboring Iraq and in the central city of Homs.

In the Christian town of Sadad north of Damascus, where Al-Qaeda-linked rebels and government soldiers are fighting for control, a rocket smashed into a home and killed five members of a family, activists said.

At least three women were among the dead, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a group that opposes Assad. He said it wasn't clear whether the projectile was fired by Syrian soldiers or the hardline rebels who have been trying to seize the town for the past week.

The rebels appear to have targeted Sadad because of its strategic location near the main highway north from Damascus, not because it is inhabited primarily by Christians. But extremists among the rebels are hostile to Syria's Christian minority, which has largely backed Assad during the conflict. Other Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have damaged and desecrated churches in areas they have overrun.

The official Syrian news agency said troops wrested back control of eastern parts of Sadad, but were clashing in other areas.

Also Sunday, Syrian Kurdish gunmen clashed with Al-Qaeda-linked groups to cement their control of a major border crossing with Iraq.

Syria's chaotic war pits Assad's forces against a disunited array of rebel groups. Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have battled other groups as well as Kurdish militias who have taken advantage of the government's weakness to cement control over territory dominated by the ethnic minority.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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