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BEIRUT — International disarmament experts today began dismantling and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the equipment used to produce it, the first step in their huge task to eliminate the country’s chemical stockpile by mid-2014, an official said.
The inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weap-ons have about nine months to purge President Bashar Assad’s regime of its chemical program.
The mission, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, faces the tightest deadline in the watchdog group’s history and must simultaneously navigate Syria’s bloody civil war.
Today was the fifth day an advance team of 20 inspectors has been in the country and the first day that involved actually disabling and destroying weapons and machinery, an official said. The production equipment involved included filling and mixing machinery, some of it mobile, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Syrians are responsible for the actual physical demolition of the materials, while inspectors monitor the process and verify what is being destroyed, the official said. He declined to provide details or say where the work took place.
This is just the start of a complicated process to eliminate Syria’s estimated 1,000-ton chemical weapons stockpile and the facilities that created it.
The production and storage facilities are scattered throughout the country.
The advance team arrived last week to lay the foundations for a broader operation of nearly 100 inspectors. Those in Syria have been double-checking the Assad regime’s initial disclosure of the weapons and chemical precursors it has and their locations.
Members of the team plan visits to every location the chemicals or weapons are stored.