Syria chemical weapons: Global watchdog approves disarmament plan

 

The world's chemical weapons watchdog approved an ambitious and risky accelerated plan to rid Syria of its chemical arsenal at a late night meeting Friday.

The decision by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) paved the way for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution enshrining the plan, which will make it legally binding. 

The resolution, already agreed on by the five veto-wielding members, was expected to pass easily late Friday at the United Nations, breaking a nearly three-year deadlock on the council, which had been deeply divided on Syria. 

"The good news is there's a decision and we expect to have an advance team on the ground (in Syria) next week," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told reporters at the organization's Hague headquarters. 

The risks inspectors will face were underscored when a car bomb exploded outside a mosque north of Damascus, killing at least 30 people, the latest victims of a civil war which has claimed more than 100,000 lives and driven another 7 million — around a third of the country's pre-war population — from their homes since March 2011. 

Law experts, meanwhile, said discussions were underway to set up a war crimes tribunal for Syria to punish perpetrators from all sides of atrocities. 

The agreement in The Hague allows the start of a mission to rid Syria's regime of its estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal by mid-2014, significantly accelerating a destruction timetable that often takes years to complete. 

"This decision sends an unmistakable message that the international community is coming together to work for peace in Syria beginning with the elimination of chemical weapons in that country," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement. 

The draft Security Council resolution agreed upon Thursday by Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain includes two legally binding demands — that Syria abandon its chemical stockpile and allow unfettered access to the chemical-weapons experts. 

If Syria fails to comply, the draft says, the Security Council would need to adopt a second resolution to impose possible military and other actions on Damascus under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. 

President Barack Obama called the Security Council deal "potentially a huge victory for the international community." 

The agreement shaping up for approval Friday represents a breakthrough after 2 years of paralysis in the Security Council. 

Diplomatic efforts to find some agreement on Syria gathered momentum in the aftermath of an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb and Obama's subsequent threat to use military force. 

The U.S. and Russia agree that Syria has roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents such as sulfur and mustard gas and nerve agents like sarin. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the U.N. on Friday that progress in Syrian chemical disarmament "should give an impetus to" moves to establish a zone "free of weapons of mass destruction and means of their delivery in the Middle East." 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the UN General Assembly he hoped the Security Council resolution would be adopted "to support the OPCW in launching the verification and destruction of chemical weapons" in Syria. He said China was prepared to help fund the disarmament mission. 

Meanwhile, a group of UN inspectors already in Syria investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons said Friday they are probing a total of seven suspected attacks, including in the Damascus suburb where hundreds were killed last month. That number was raised from three sites previously. 

Attacks with conventional and makeshift weapons continued unabated. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that monitors the civil war, said a car bomb struck as worshippers were leaving the al-Sahel mosque after Friday prayers in Rankous, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Damascus. 

Residents quickly held funerals for some of the bombing victims in line with Islamic tradition of quickly burying the dead. At one funeral, several rockets fired by government troops fell nearby, wounding some of the mourners, activist Mohammed Saeed said. 

Car bombs, shelling and airstrikes have become common in Syria's civil war, heavily damaging cities and Syria's social fabric as the conflict has taken on increasingly dark sectarian overtones that pit a primarily Sunni Muslim rebel movement against a regime dominated by Assad's Alawite sect. 

The unrelenting violence led a group of international law experts to call for the creation of a war crimes court in Damascus to try top-ranking Syrian politicians, soldiers or rebels when the civil war ends. 

Professor Michael Scharf of Case Western Reserve University told The Associated Press that draft statutes for such a court have been quietly under development for nearly two years. 

Scharf said the group is going public now to push the issue of accountability for war crimes in Syria in hopes that will deter combatants from committing further atrocities. 

Syria is not a party to the International Criminal Court — the permanent war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands — so the ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes there unless the court is referred to it by the Security Council. Russia would almost certainly block such a move in the case of Syria, and diplomats said Moscow had blocked references to the ICC from the draft Security Council resolution. 

The OPCW destruction plan calls on Syria to give inspectors unfettered access to any site suspected of chemical weapons involvement, even if Syria's government did not identify the location. That gives the inspectors unusually broad authority. 

Once the plan is approved, it gives Damascus a week to provide detailed information on its arsenal, including the name and quantity of all chemicals in its stockpile; the type and quantity of munitions that can be used to fire chemical weapons; and the location of weapons, storage facilities and production facilities. All chemical weapons production and mixing equipment should be destroyed no later than Nov. 1. 

In an indication of the enormity of the task ahead, the OPCW also appealed for donations to fund the disarmament, saying it will have to hire new weapons inspectors and chemical experts. 

In Geneva, the UN's top human rights body on Friday condemned what it called "systematic and widespread" rights violations by Syrian government forces. 

The Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, voted 40-1 with six abstentions to approve a resolution condemning "continued gross, systematic and widespread violations of human rights ... by the Syrian authorities and affiliated militias" and "any human rights abuses" by opposition groups.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall