THE HAGUE: The international chemical warfare watchdog charged with destroying Syria’s arsenal yesterday said Damascus had provided “additional information” about its chemical weapons programme, complying with its obligations under a UN resolution.
Director-general Ahmet Uzumcu of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the new submission “was additional to the disclosure” made by the Syrian regime on September 21.
The announcement came during a meeting of the OPCW’s 41-member Executive Council on Thursday, The Hague-based body said in a statement.
“The additional submission is being reviewed by the OPCW,” the statement said.
In Damascus, a team of inspectors from OPCW and the United Nations was yesterday gearing up to disable Syria’s chemical weapons programme after reporting “encouraging” progress in a day of meetings with regime officials.
The regime and its armed opponents have both been accused of carrying out numerous atrocities in the 30-month conflict.
In a television interview, President Bashar Al Assad again denied having perpetrated August 21 chemical attacks on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds and prompted Washington to threaten military action.
Syria’s chemical arsenal — to be destroyed under a UN resolution — is in the hands of “special forces” who were the only ones capable of using them, Assad said.
“Preparing these weapons is a complex technical operation... and a special procedure is necessary to use them, which requires a central order from the army chief of staff. As a result it is impossible that they were used,” he said.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said inspectors on the ground had praised Syria’s cooperation.
“They have said that the cooperation from the Syrian side has been good,” he told reporters in New York.
“They have received technical diagrams, other information, which of course they are studying.”
Fierce battles, meanwhile, gripped Barzeh in northern Damascus, as troops pressed a campaign aimed at crushing rebel enclaves around the capital, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Al Qaeda militants battled fighters linked to the Western-backed opposition along with Kurdish gunmen in Syrian towns along the Turkish border yesterday, in clashes that killed at least 19 people, activists said.
Activists said heavy fighting continued in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border between Al Qaeda militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and fighters linked to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army group.
An activist affiliated with Syrian rebels said one fighter from the Northern Storm brigade involved in the fighting against ISIL was killed in Azaz. It was unclear what the overall death toll was.
ISIL fighters also battled Kurdish forces around the town of Ras Al Ain in Syria’s Kurdish-dominated north, said a Kurdish activist, Bassam Al Ahmed, in the nearby town of Hassakeh.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 fighters from ISIL and the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra group and four Kurdish gunmen were killed.
The monitoring group reported several air strikes across the country, including in Yabrud near Damascus that was hit by five strikes. A man and woman were reportedly killed in the bombardment. The air force also struck Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, killing at least three people.