UNITED STATES - International chemical weapon troubleshooters will enter war-torn Syria on Tuesday to start one of the biggest and most dangerous disarmament operations ever staged.
With more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and other banned horror chemicals stocked across the country, the United Nations and the global chemical weapons watchdog have launched an urgent appeal for scarce experts to join the mission.
Applicants must be ready to face mortal risks and an impossible deadline.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon called the operation "daunting" after the UN Security Council voted Friday to eliminate President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arms.
The mission by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which polices the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will run in parallel to a UN investigation into a huge sarin gas attack in Damascus in August and other suspected attacks.
Final details of a US-Russia plan to dispose of stockpiles at an estimated 45 sites have still not been agreed, UN diplomats said.
Cleanups of chemical nasties have been staged in Iraq and Libya, but never in the middle of a raging war.
The UN says the Syrian conflict has already left more than 100,000 dead.
Experts say the OPCW will need up to 200 inspectors for the Syria force. It currently has less than half that number who already have a heavy regular workload. The watchdog has had to appeal to the major powers to send scientists.
Those who go will become a new target in the 30-month-old conflict and the strife means the noxious potions will have to be moved out of Syria to be destroyed.
The US-Russia plan sets a target date of mid-2014 for completion, but few people believe it is achievable.
"No operation this big has been carried out before and certainly not in a war," said Dina Esfandiary, a disarmament specialist with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
The Syrian government has declared one list of chemical sites and weapons. It has until Friday to send more information to the OPCW. "The first obstacle is it is very difficult for us to know for certain whether Assad has declared all his stockpiles," Esfandiary told AFP.
"The inspectors will then become perfect targets in a situation of civil war. Anyone who wants to derail the process - and I am sure a lot of people will want to do that - will be able to target them as they visit the various sites."