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Chemical disarmament inspectors cross into Syria

Published time: October 01, 2013 11:44
Edited time: October 01, 2013 18:45

A convoy of United Nations vehicles is seen as a chemical weapons disarmament team arrive in Damascus on October 1, 2013 to begin the task of inventorying the country's arsenal of the banned weapons in readiness for its destruction. (AFP Photo / Louai Beshara)

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The team of some 20 international inspectors who have been issued the task to ensure that Syria chemical weapons are destroyed have crossed the border into the country.

On Monday, international chemical weapons inspectors completed investigations surrounding the alleged Sarin gas attacks in the country.

On the same day the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) left the Netherlands to begin a complex mission of finding and dismantling an estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal, which includes sarin and mustard gas, scattered across some 45 different sites nationwide.

The mission follows a UN resolution which demanded that Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal be destroyed. The procedure to purge the country of chemical weapons stocks has a target finish date of mid-2014. 

The OPCW group entered the country from Lebanon over the Masnaa border crossing in some 20 vehicles carrying equipment as well as security personnel. 

The experts have set up a logistics base for its immediate work, the UN said in a statement.

The team responsible consists of engineers, chemists and paramedics, alongside some members of other professions. The group also includes one Russian expert, according to the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Earlier, Moscow said that Russian representatives will work on all stages of the mission.

Their mission beginning Tuesday, the team will be given 30 days before they are required to submit a report and about nine months to complete their disarmament task.

Syria has repeatedly promised to cooperate with the mission which was endorsed by the UN Security Council. In an interview with Italy’s RAI News 24 TV on Sunday, the country’s president, Bashar Assad stated: “Of course we have to comply. We have a history of doing this with every treaty we sign…according to each chapter in the agreement, we don't have any reservations.” 

The agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks was initiated after an attack on August 21st in an eastern suburb of Damascus, in which hundreds of people died. The UN inspectors later concluded that sarin gas had been used. While the US blamed Assad’s government, the Syrian government has accused the rebels of using chemical weapons, not only on this occasion but at other times during the year. 

The UN chemical weapons inspectors who left Syria on Monday had been on their second mission in two months. The team had been investigating seven other cases of apparent chemical arms usage, among which were three alleged chemical weapons attacks that may have taken place in the wake of the August 21 attack. A detailed report on their findings will be made available next month.