International inspectors began the enormous task Sunday of destroying Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and the machinery used to create it, a United Nations official said, racing to meet a tight deadline to eliminate President Bashar Al-Assad’s chemical weapons program.
The disarmament experts arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to carry out their mission under a UN Security Council resolution to dismantle and ultimately eliminate Syria’s estimated 1,000-ton arsenal. Their first goal in the undertaking is to scrap the Al-Assad regime’s capacity to manufacture chemical weapons by November 1.
By the end of the day Sunday, a combination of both weapons and some production equipment would be put out of order, a UN official who works alongside the inspectors said.
“Today is the first day of the phase of destruction and disabling. Verification will also continue,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“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 could not provide further details, nor say where the destruction took place.
It is just the first step in a mission that has the ambitious task of eliminating Syria’s entire chemical arms production capability and stockpile by mid-2014. That’s the tightest deadline that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have ever faced, and this mission marks the first time they have operated in a country at war.
Developed during the 1980s and 1990s, Syria’s chemical arsenal is believed to contain mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, VX and tabun.
An advance team of 19 OPCW experts arrived in the country last week to lay the foundations for a broader operation with nearly 100 inspectors.