Inspectors: 1 Syrian Chemical Site was Abandoned


BEIRUT - Syria has given international experts video and photographic evidence that shows a chemical weapons site near the contested northern city of Aleppo has been dismantled and abandoned by the government, inspectors said Thursday.

With the latest documentation, experts from the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations have now verified 22 of the 23 chemical weapons sites declared by Syria.

Last month, the inspectors visited 21 of the 23 sites but were unable to visit two - one of them near Aleppo - because of fighting in the area.

The photographs and footage provided by President Bashar Assad's government showed the facility near Aleppo empty and with "extensive battle damage," according to a statement from the OPCW-U.N. mission, which is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons program. There were no details on when the battle damage occurred.

The images were shot with a tamperproof camera that inspectors had fitted with a GPS system so that the location of the camera could be tracked, the statement said. It added that the photos and video have been authenticated by international inspectors.

The OPCW-U.N. mission has not released the location of the last remaining site the inspectors need to visit.

The inspectors said last week that Syria had met the Nov. 1 deadline to destroy or "render inoperable" all chemical weapon production facilities and machinery for mixing chemicals into poison gas and filling munitions, even though two sites had not been inspected because of fighting in the country's civil war.

The organization said at the time that Syria had declared the two inaccessible sites already had been abandoned and all equipment had been moved to other sites that had been inspected.

Syria is believed to possess around 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin. Damascus already had given preliminary details to the OPCW when it declared it was joining the organization in September.

The move warded off possible U.S. military strikes in the aftermath of a deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapon attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs. Washington and its allies accuse the Syrian government of being responsible for the attack, while Damascus blames rebels.

On Wednesday, the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, issued a statement calling on the U.N. Security Council "ensure that the Syrian regime is held to account and that justice for all Syrians is served, in accordance with international law."

The joint OPCW-U.N. mission has until mid-2014 to rid Syria of its chemical stockpile. It's the tightest deadline the international chemical weapons watchdog has ever faced. The inspectors' task is made all the more challenging because it has to be completed amid a raging civil war.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said Thursday that government forces backed by fighters from two Shiite militias - Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iraq's Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas brigade - seized control of the suburb of Sabina south of Damascus.

The SANA state news agency also reported the government's capture of Sabina.

The Syrian government keeps a tight grip on central Damascus, and has been trying for months to sweep anti-Assad fighters from a host of suburbs surrounding the capital.


Corder reporter from The Hague, Netherlands. Associated Press writer Yasmine Saker contributed to this report from Beirut.

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