Their work has been dangerous. This is, after all, the first time arms inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have worked inside an active war zone. The team has come under sniper fire, yet barely a month after their mission in Syria began, they’re right on schedule.
The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has met a deadline set for Sunday by formally handing over information about the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons and where the weapons are located.
“Syria has met all the deadlines and until now they have enabled the verification activities of the OPCW in a very brisk and businesslike way,” OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told CBC News. “We have no complaints on the Syrian side at this point in time.”
Luhan says the inspectors will have visited 20 of the 23 chemical weapons sites by the end of Sunday. The remaining three facilities lie in areas where the United Nations inspectors have not yet been able to provide secure travel for the OPCW teams.
Another key deadline looms. By Friday, the Syrian regime will have to destroy all of the equipment used to produce and mix poison gases and nerve agents, such as sarin.
Sarin blamed for 1,400 deaths
The United States says it has proof that sarin was used by the Syrian regime in a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. The U.S. says at least 1,400 people were killed.
The Americans threatened military strikes against the regime, but that was averted by an agreement reached between the U.S. and Russia that has set out a timetable of the middle of next year for Syria to completely destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.
The OPCW reports progress in the disabling of the equipment used to make chemical weapons by the Nov. 1 deadline. Already, some gear has been destroyed — with the international inspectors lending a hand.
“Syria doesn’t have experience in destroying stuff, it has experience in building chemical weapons,” said Luhan. “We have lots of experience in overseeing the destruction of chemical weapons productions facilities, depots and so forth.”
Low-tech methods are often being used to render the equipment unusable. Machines are sometimes filled with concrete, while others are smashed with heavy vehicles.
The agreement concerning Syria’s chemical weapons, backed by a UN Security Council resolution, calls for the destruction of its entire arsenal by the middle of 2014.
Norway was considering an American request to help destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, but now it seems the Scandinavian nation will not lend a hand.
“After a comprehensive assessment, the two countries have come to the joint understanding that due to time constraints and external factors, such as capacities, regulatory requirements, Norway is not the most suitable location for the destruction of Syrian chemical warfare agents,” said a statement on Norway’s ministry of foreign affairs website.
The OPCW is expected to make a decision about where the chemical weapons will be rendered inoperable at a meeting next month.