People pay homage to the victims of the Syrian conflict, as part of the UN International Day of Peace on September 21, 2013, in Amsterdam
AMSTERDAM: Syria has handed over information about its chemical arsenal to a UN-backed weapons watchdog, meeting the first deadline of an ambitious disarmament operation that averted the threat of Western air strikes.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said yesterday it had “received the expected disclosure” from Damascus, 24 hours after saying it had been given a partial document from Syrian authorities. It said it was reviewing the information, handed over after President Bashar Al Assad agreed to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in the wake of a sarin gas strike in Damascus’s suburbs last month — the world’s deadliest chemical attack in 25 years.
Washington blamed Assad’s forces for the attack, which it said killed more than 1,400 people. Assad blamed rebels battling to overthrow him, saying it made no sense for his forces to use chemical weapons when they were gaining the upper hand and while UN chemical inspectors were staying in central Damascus. REUTERS
BEIRUT: Syrian troops killed at least 15 people and recaptured villages in the central province of Hama, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported yesterday.
Official media reported that loyalist forces seized control of three villages in Hama province that had been in rebel hands, but did not mention casualties. The Observatory said the 15 died when troops backed by pro-regime militiamen stormed the Sunni village of Sheikh Hadid late on Friday.
The watchdog, which relies on a network of doctors and medics on the ground for its information, described the killings as a “massacre”. “Fifteen people were killed — two women, a child and 12 men — by regime forces backed by the Popular Committees and National Defence Forces Alawite militias using guns and knives,” it said. Ten other people were wounded, it added.
State news agency SANA reported that regular troops entered Sheikh Hadid to “restore security and stability” and clear it of diehard jihadist fighters of Al Nusra Front.
SANA did not mention any casualties in Sheikh Hadid, but said the army also recaptured two other villages in Hama province, Tell Malh and Jelma. The Observatory also reported that troops had seized Tell Malh and Jelma which had been in rebel hands following fierce clashes.
The Britain-based group also reported air strikes by regime aircraft on targets around the country, namely in the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo and Hama.
Meanwhile, Russia may change its position on Syria if it sees any “cheating” by the regime, a senior Kremlin official said as Damascus disclosed details of its chemical stockpile in the first step of a disarmament plan.
“I am speaking theoretically and hypothetically, but if we become convinced that Assad is cheating, we can change our position,” the Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
He was speaking at a conference in Stockholm organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Ivanov did not clarify his remarks, and reiterated Russia’s opposition to intervention in the country wracked by civil war that has killed more than 110,000 in 30 months.
He added that he expects the locations of the Syrian chemical arsenal to be disclosed within a week, but cautioned that the army does not control the entire country. “We still don’t know where the chemical weapons are located geographically. I think this will become clear within a week,” Ivanov said.