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Assad: Syria will comply with arms resolution

30 September 2013, 10:34

Damascus - President Bashar Assad said on Sunday that Syria will comply with a UN resolution to destroy its chemical arsenal as weapons experts prepared to head to the war-wracked country.

An air strike on a high school in the northern rebel-held city of Raqa meanwhile killed 16 people, including 10 students under the age of 18, as troops battled rebels on several fronts, a monitoring group said.

A team of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is to start work on Tuesday to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal, a day after UN experts are due to wrap up a probe into several alleged chemical attacks.

The United Nations has said the experts hope to have a comprehensive report ready "by late October", which will also cover the 21 August attack in the Damascus suburbs said to have killed hundreds of civilians with the nerve agent sarin.

The Syrian regime and the rebels seeking its overthrow have repeatedly traded accusations of chemical weapons use over the course of the two-year-old civil war, which has left over 110 000 dead.

The United States threatened military action in the wake of the 21 August attack, in which it said regime forces had deliberately killed hundreds of civilians with rocket-delivered nerve agents.

The regime denied the allegations but agreed to relinquish its chemical arsenal in order to avert a strike under a US-Russian deal which was enshrined in a landmark UN Security Council resolution on Friday.

Assad told Italy's Rai News 24 television channel that Damascus "will comply" with the resolution because Syria always respects treaties it signs, SANA news agency reported.

In the wide-ranging interview he also said warming relations between the United States and Iran could be beneficial for Syria and the region, "so long as the United States is honest".

But he said that most European countries "are unable" to play a role in the proposed peace process for Syria.

On Saturday UN chief Ban Ki-moon pressed for a peace conference aimed at ending the conflict, which has sent millions fleeing from their homes and raised fears of spillover across the region.

Ban made the appeal during his first meeting with Syria's opposition National Coalition chief, Ahmad Jarba, who said he was ready to send a delegation to the conference, a UN spokesperson said.

Ban has set mid-November as the target date for convening the conference.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem meanwhile insisted there could be no talk of Assad's departure - a demand of both Western governments and the Syrian opposition.

"There can be no discussion of the future of President Assad. It is in the constitution," he said at UN headquarters in New York.

Shock, tears and mangled bodies

Video footage posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed a scene of carnage at the high school bombed in Raqa, including mangled bodies, one lying under schoolbooks.

Its authenticity could not immediately be verified.

"There was panic, with children crying as they sought to take shelter," it quoted a survivor as saying.

Raqa, the only provincial capital in rebel hands, was captured from government forces in March and is now largely controlled by Al-Qaeda loyalists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

It lies in the Euphrates valley 160km east of the Aleppo, Syria's second city.

The air strike came after rebels launched an overnight attack on army positions in Nasseriya al-Qalamun, north of Damascus, killing at least 19 soldiers and wounding 60, the Observatory said.

Rebels also seized a customs building in southern Syria and a swathe of land linking the southern Daraa province to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights after four days of fierce fighting, which the Observatory said left 26 regime soldiers and several rebels dead.

The fighting in southern Syria spilled over into Jordan when a shell landed in the northern Jordanian city of Ramtha without causing any casualties, according to the information ministry in Amman, which said a formal letter of protest had been sent to the Syrian embassy.

The operation to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal, which Ban has called "daunting," will be one of the biggest and most dangerous of its kind.

Syria's arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and other banned chemicals stored at an estimated 45 sites across the country.

The United Nations and the global chemical weapons watchdog have launched an urgent appeal for experts to join the mission to destroy the weapons by a target date of mid-2014.



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