Syria Chemical Weapons Update

UPDATE 12:20 EDT:   Armed opposition groups in Syria have said that they will not attend the Geneva II peace talks, saying that negotiating with the government of Bashar al-Assad would be an act of betrayal. The powerful opposition group’s statement comes on Sunday as fighting rages near the border with neighbouring Iraq and in the central city of Homs.

Syria Chemical Weapons Update

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 insecure areas where travel for the OPCW teams.is restricted by insurgents refuse to grant ceasefires.

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.  That deadline should be easily reached as most such equipment has now already been destroyed.

The next step is to destroy the actual chemicals.  The agreement concerning Syria’s chemical weapons, backed by a UN Security Council resolution, calls for the destruction of its entire arsenal by June 2014. 

The OPCW is expected to make a decision about where the chemical weapons will be rendered inoperable at a meeting next month.

All Syrian chemical weapons could easily be removed from Syria by ship by the end of Jan; however the three sites where insurgents are refusing ceasefires could be a major sticking point.

An attempt is also being made to set up a peace conference in Geneva for 23 Nov with the goal of producing a ceasefire to allow for chemical weapons in combat areas to be destroyed.  

Syria has agreed to attend the conference, however the al Qaeda linked Islamic groups led by the al Nusrah Front are refusing to meet at all, and the other groups have agreed to meet only if Assad agrees to step down. 

The diplomatic maneuvering and renewed calls for peace talks on Syria have failed to reach any breakthrough as the Friends of Syria, a group of Western and Arab foreign ministers, could not persuade Syrian opposition leaders to attend the Geneva II peace conference planned for next month.

Their talks in London, aimed at building unity, have instead highlighted even more divisions.

Members of the Syrian National Coalition maintain sitting down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would make them traitors to the revolution. Their leader, Ahmad al-Jarba laid down tough demands if his group is even to consider attending the Geneva II talks.

“The aim was to remove the criminal from power and the war criminals are tried – then we welcome Geneva II. These are our true demands and this is where we stand, and to build on these principles, together we will rid Syria and the region of the spreading fire” insists the Syrian National Coalition.

Barring a miracle it appears that the chemical weapons destruction goal, except for the three sites, may be reached in early winter; while the blood shed continues and intensifies.

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