Weapons inspection begins; 12 killed
Oct 2, 2013 / 7:23 am
International inspectors in charge of overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons left their hotel in Damascus on Wednesday to begin their work as deadly clashes raged on the edge of the capital.
The inspectors' mission -- endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution that calls for Syria's chemical stockpile to be scrapped by mid-2014 -- faces the tightest deadline ever placed before the experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
It was not clear where the inspectors, who arrived in Syria on Tuesday from neighbouring Lebanon, were headed from their hotel in central Damascus. Their work comes against the backdrop of relentless fighting.
On the northern edge of the city, fierce clashes between Syrian troops and al Qaeda-linked fighters killed at least 12 soldiers and pro-government militiamen on Tuesday, anti-regime activists said, as the army pressed on with a campaign to dislodge opposition fighters from the capital.
The fighting in the contested district of Barzeh had flared up on Monday, when the army stepped up attacks against opposition forces who have been trying to capture the area for months, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Barzeh is important for rebels trying to take their battle closer to President Bashar Assad's seat of power.
At least 19 government troops have been killed in Barzeh since Monday -- including the 12 on Tuesday -- and dozens of others have been wounded, the Observatory said. The rebels, mostly from the ranks of al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, also sustained losses, but have not disclosed them, the Observatory said.
The fighting illustrates the enormous challenges the inspectors -- an advance team of 19 from a Netherlands-based chemical weapons watchdog and 14 UN staff members -- face as they kick off their work.
Within a week, a second group of inspectors is scheduled to join them to form teams that will fan out to individual locations.
They have around nine months to complete their mission, which calls for finding, dismantling and eliminating Assad's estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal.
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