Syria chemical arms team 'turned back after safety fears'

Syria chemical arms team ‘turned back after safety fears’


Chemical weapons inspectors in Syria have been unable to access one of the designated sites because of safety concerns, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog has told the BBC.It is the first time they have been unable to complete a scheduled visit, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) spokesman said.
But overall the experts were pleased with their progress so far, he said.
Their mission to rid Syria of chemical weapons was set up by a UN resolution.
It followed international outrage at a chemical weapons attack near the Syrian capital Damascus in August.
Hostage released
Meanwhile, Syrian state TV reports that a Canadian United Nations worker, missing since February, has been released in Damascus.
Carl Campeau had been working as a legal adviser to the UN Disengagement Observer Force that patrols the ceasefire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.
The Syrian government says the Canadian was kidnapped by rebels but has now been handed over to a UN representative.
‘Cause for concern’
The OPCW’s work in Syria marks the first time the international chemical weapons watchdog – which won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – has been asked to oversee the destruction of a weapons armoury during a conflict.
The organisation, which is based in the Dutch city of The Hague, said the team in Syria had completed nearly 50% of their work of inspecting more than 20 sites and destroying equipment.
Under the UN resolution, Syria’s chemical weapons production equipment must be destroyed by 1 November and stockpiles must be disposed of by mid-2014.
The deadline for Syria to submit its “destruction plan” was 15 November, the OPCW said on Thursday.
But despite the good progress, inspectors were forced to turn back at one site after failing to receive assurances that they would be safe, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told the BBC.
There had been a number of security incidents over the last few days, which had given them “cause for concern”, he said.
On Wednesday night there had been a mortar attack near the hotel the inspectors are staying in in Damascus and over the weekend a number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated in cars nearby, he said.
Meanwhile, an international conference on a political solution to Syria’s conflict could take place in Geneva on 23-24 November, Qadri Jamil, Syria’s deputy prime minister, said on Thursday.
He made the announcement after talks at the foreign ministry in Russia, Syria’s main international ally.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting that has ravaged Syria for two-and-a-half years, according to the UN.
More than two million people have fled Syria and some 4.5 million have been forced from their homes within the country.
Casualty figures vary for the chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta agricultural belt around Syria’s capital, Damascus, on 21 August.
It was estimated to have killed hundreds of people. The United States and other Western powers blamed the attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
But Mr Assad accuses Syrian rebels of being behind it. – BBC News


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