x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Chemical weapons experts begin destroying Syria’s arsenal

Heavy vehicles set to run over missile warheads and aerial chemical bombs, as dismantling operation gets underway.

DAMASCUS //

Experts began overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons on Sunday under the terms of a UN resolution that will see Damascus relinquish the banned arms, an official in the mission said.

He said the team had begun verifying details turned over by the Syrian government about the arsenal and destroying weapons and production facilities — a daunting task meant to conclude by mid-2014. Syria is believed to have 1,000 tonnes of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned arms at dozens of sites.

“Today is the first day of destruction, in which heavy vehicles are going to run over and thus destroy missile warheads, aerial chemical bombs and mobile and static mixing and filling units,” he said.

“The physical process of the destruction and dismantling of the weapons and the production facilities is carried out by the Syrians under the supervision of our team, which will then verify and confirm the process has been carried out appropriately,” he added.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which joins UN disarmament officials on the mission, has said other methods to render Syria’s production facilities unusable could include explosives, sledgehammers, or pouring concrete.

As the operation got under way, president Bashar Al Assad admitted in an interview with Germany’s Spiegel news magazine that his government had made “mistakes” in the country’s brutal conflict.

“Whenever political decisions are made, mistakes happen,” Mr Assad said.

“Personal mistakes by individuals happened. We all make mistakes. Even a president makes mistakes,” he added. He insisted, however, that “our fundamental decisions were right.”

But he again denied that his forces used chemical weapons in an August 21 attack that led to threats of a US strike and eventually the UN resolution requiring Syria to turn over its arsenal.

Mr Assad said in the interview that his government was being “very transparent” with the UN-OPCW team.

“The experts can go to every site. They are going to get all the data from us, they will verify them, and then they can make a judgement about our credibility,” he said.

*Agence France-Presse