Chemical experts start Syria mission amid UN calls for access

Chemical experts start Syria mission amid UN calls for access

DAMASCUS - Experts tasked with implementing the UN resolution ordering the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal began work Thursday, as the world body demanded access to civilians trapped by the conflict.

Nine disarmament experts from The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were seen leaving their Damascus hotel in a three-vehicle convoy, heading for an unknown destination.

The nine, part of a team of 19 experts, are overseeing the implementation of a UN resolution ordering the destruction of Syria's deadly chemical weapons arsenal.

Resolution 2118 was passed after gas attacks on the outskirts of Damascus killed hundreds of people on August 21, an atrocity that prompted the United States to threaten military strikes on the Syrian government.

The OPCW team faces a daunting task, as President Bashar al-Assad's regime is understood to have stockpiled more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemical weapons.

Their immediate aim is to disable chemical weapons production sites by late October or early November using "expedient methods" including the use of explosives, sledgehammers or pouring in concrete, an OPCW official said.

It is the first time in the OPCW's history that a mission to destroy chemical weapons is being undertaken in a country embroiled in a civil war.

The Syria conflict has killed more than 115,000 people, forced millions more to flee as refugees and trapped hundreds of thousands.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday demanded immediate and "unhindered" access to these trapped civilians.

Since the beginning of the 30-month uprising, the Council has been deadlocked, with Russia defending Assad's regime, before Resolution 2118 was passed.

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