- POSTED: 03 Oct 2013 03:14
This graph is an experimental feature that tracks number of views over time.
International disarmament experts began on Wednesday their mission to catalogue Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons under a deal that will see the arms turned over for destruction by mid-2014.
DAMASCUS: International disarmament experts began on Wednesday their mission to catalogue Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons under a deal that will see the arms turned over for destruction by mid-2014.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council agreed to a non-binding statement calling on the Syrian government to improve humanitarian access to civilians.
And a watchdog said Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels were advancing towards a border crossing with Turkey.
The 19-member team from The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2118 ordering the elimination of Syria's chemical arms.
Along with 14 UN staffers, they are staying at a Damascus hotel.
They set up a logistics base after arriving, but did not appear to have left the hotel by early Wednesday evening.
"In the coming days, their efforts are expected to focus on verifying information provided by the Syrian authorities and the initial planning phase of helping the country destroy its chemical weapons production facilities," a UN statement said.
This should be completed by November 1, it added.
The task is huge, as Syria's arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemicals stored at an estimated 45 sites across the war-torn country.
The mission is the first in OPCW history to take place in a war zone.
On Tuesday, a team of UN experts left Damascus after probing seven alleged chemical weapons attacks for a report expected to be released in late October.
The UN team visited Syria in August, and later confirmed that sarin was used in a August 21 attacks that prompted the United States to threaten military action against Damascus.
The threatened strike was put on hold after the United States and Russia hammered out the deal under which Syria will turn over its chemical arms.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he will comply with the resolution and Syria has turned over documents detailing its chemical arsenal.
The OPCW says it has no reason to doubt the information, which its inspectors will cross-check in Syria.
Top on the inspection list will be production sites due to be disabled by late October or early November.
On the heels of the chemical weapons deal, the UN Security Council agreed Wednesday on a statement urging humanitarian access.
The statement, drawn up by Australia and Luxembourg, is not legally binding but says the council is "appalled at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence" in Syria, according to a copy obtained by AFP.
It urges all parties "to take all appropriate steps to facilitate the efforts" of aid workers.
It calls on Assad's government "to take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations, and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles."
The government has opposed aid missions from neighbouring countries, claiming supplies would go to rebel forces.
Access to rebel-held areas has also been difficult, with extremist fighters targeting foreign aid workers in some areas.
As the Syrian conflict grinds on, there have been renewed calls for a peace conference to be held in Geneva, with UN chief Ban Ki-moon suggesting a target date of mid-November.
But the prospects for such a conference remain uncertain, with Syria insisting Assad's departure is not up for discussion, despite it being a key opposition demand.
"Syria is staying put: the state, the nation, the people and the president. This is the Syrians' choice," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said on Tuesday.
"All the people call for President Bashar al-Assad to be president of this state, whatever the opposition, the Americans and the traitors say."
On the ground, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had seized two villages near the Turkish border and were advancing towards the Bab al-Salameh crossing there.
More than 115,000 people have been killed in the 30-month conflict, according to the Observatory and Syria's Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said the war had also caused losses of $16.5 billion (12.2 billion euros) to the country's private and public sectors.
The conflict has forced more than two million Syrians to flee, most of them finding refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Wednesday that 17 Western nations, including the United States, France and Australia, had agreed to accept a combined total of 10,000 of the refugees.