BEIRUT -- International inspectors began destroying Syria's
stockpile of chemical weapons and the machinery used to create it, a
United Nations official said Sunday, racing under a tight deadline
aiming to eliminate President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons program
within nine months.
The move kicks off the ambitious program,
prompted by a chemical weapons attack in mid-August that killed hundreds
of civilians on the outskirts of Damascus and brought a rare consensus
at the U.N. Under a Security Council resolution in September, the first
stage is to destroy Syria's capability to produce chemical weapons by
He said that by the end of Sunday, a combination of both weapons and some production equipment would be put out of order.
"Today is the first day of the phase of destruction and disabling.
Verification will also continue," said the U.N. official, who works
alongside inspectors. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the
matters sensitivity. "The plan was that two types categories of
materials would be destroyed: one is equipment for making (weapons) -
filling and mixing equipment, some of it mobile, and some it static. The
other is actual munitions," he said.
He could not confirm what specifically was destroyed, nor where the destruction took place.
"That is the plan - to do it today," he said.
advance team of disarmament experts from the Organization for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria earlier this month to
set up the broader operation to dismantle and ultimately destroy the
chemical program, believed to include some 1,000 tons of toxic agents.
The U.N. Security Council resolution set the tightest timetable ever for
the OPCW, to completely eliminate the program by mid-2014.
Their mission stems from a deadly Aug. 21 attack on opposition-held
suburbs of Damascus in which the U.N. has determined the nerve agent
sarin was used. Hundreds of people, including children were killed. The
U.S. and Western allies accuse the Syrian government of being
responsible. Damascus blames the rebels.
The Obama administration
threatened to launch punitive missile strikes against Syria, prompting
frantic diplomatic efforts to forestall an attack. Those efforts
concluded with September's unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution
endorsing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons.
inspection team's mission is further complicated because they have to
operate even as Assad's military is battling rebels in the country's
bloody civil war.
The conflict, which is rooted in what began as
largely peaceful protests in March 2011, has laid waste to the
countries' cities, shattered its economy and driven more than 2 million
people to seek shelter abroad. The violence affects every corner of
Syria, which has become a patchwork of rebel-held and regime-held
In an interview in a state-run newspaper Sunday, Assad
said the Syrian regime began producing chemical weapons in the 1980s to
"fill the technical gap in the traditional weapons between Syria and
Israel." He said production of chemical weapons was halted in the late
1990s, but provided no further information.