Watchdog: Syria has filed chemical weapon details

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Syria has filed details of its poison gas and nerve agent program and an initial plan to destroy it to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the organization said Sunday.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement that Syria completed its declaration as part of a strict and ambitious timeline that aims to eliminate the lethal stockpile by mid-2014.

The group, based in The Hague, said Syria made the declaration Thursday. The announcement provides “the basis on which plans are devised for a systematic, total and verified destruction of declared chemical weapons and production facilities,” the group said.

Such declarations made to the organization are confidential. No details of Syria’s program were released.

Syria 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 an Aug. 21 chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb. Syria denies responsibility for the deadly attack.

OPCW inspectors were hastily dispatched to Syria this month and have visited most of the 23 sites Damascus declared. They also have begun overseeing destruction work to ensure that machines used to mix chemicals and fill munitions with poisons are no longer functioning.

Syria is believed to possess around 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin.

It has not yet been decided how or where destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons will happen. Damascus’ declaration includes a general plan for destruction that will be considered by the OPCW’s 41-nation executive council on Nov. 15.

Norway’s foreign minister announced Friday that the country had turned down a U.S. request to receive the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons for destruction because it doesn’t have the capabilities to complete the task by the deadlines given.

The announcement came among renewed fighting in Syria. Al-Qaida-linked rebels battled government troops for control of the Christian town of Sadad north of Damascus, activists said.

The rebels have been trying to seize the town for the past week, and residents in the rebel-held western neighborhoods of Sadad are trapped in their homes, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

The rebels appear to have targeted Sadad because of its strategic location near the main highway north from Damascus rather than because it is inhabited primarily by Christians. But extremists among the rebels are hostile to Syria’s Christians minority, which has largely backed President Bashar Assad during the conflict.

The official Syrian news agency said troops wrested back control of eastern parts of Sadad, but were clashing in other areas.

Also Sunday, Syrian Kurdish gunmen were trying to secure their hold over a major border crossing with Iraq after capturing the captured the Yaaroubiyeh post in northeast Syria on Saturday. Abdurrahman said the Kurdish gunmen were fighting pockets of fighters from extremist rebel groups in southern Yaaroubiyeh.

Syria’s chaotic more than 2 ½ year-old conflict pits Assad’s forces against a disunited array of rebel factions. Al-Qaida-linked hard-liners have fought other rebel groups as well as Kurdish militias who have taken advantage of the government’s weakness to cement control over territory dominated by the ethnic minority.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, accused Iraqi forces of fighting moderate Syrian rebels at Yaaroubiyeh, and shelling the area in cooperation with Kurdish militants.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry spokesman, Saad Maan Ibrahim, rejected the accusations, saying they are “baseless because Iraq and its security forces have nothing to do with the fighting at the Syrian border crossing.”

In neighboring Lebanon, another two people were killed by sniper fire during fighting between rival sects in the northern city of Tripoli, the official state news agency reported. It said that a soldier in the city also died Sunday of his wounds.

At least 10 people have been killed since clashes flared earlier this week, security officials said.

Syria’s civil war effectively has spread to Lebanon’s second largest city, where it has inflamed tensions between two impoverished Tripoli neighborhoods, home to Assad opponents and supporters.

The Bab Tabbaneh district is largely Sunni Muslim, like Syria’s rebels. The other neighborhood Jabal Mohsen mostly has residents of Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The latest round of fighting began four days ago. Tensions had been mounting since Oct. 14, when a Lebanese military prosecutor pressed charges against seven men, at least one of whom was from Jabal Mohsen, for their involvement in twin bombings near two Sunni mosques in Tripoli on Aug. 23 that killed 47 people.

Lebanon shares its northern and eastern border with Syria. Lebanon’s Sunni leadership has mostly supported the rebels, while Alawites and Shiites have backed the Assad government. Members of all three sects have gone as fighters to Syria.

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