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Assad: Syria will honor weapons deal

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

DAMASCUS — President Bashar Assad pledged during an interview broadcast on Monday to honor an agreement to surrender Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, but he said that rebels might try to block international arms inspectors from doing their work.

As battles continued across Syria, Associated Press video of an attack on Sunday night showed the regime's helicopters dropping barrel bombs on opposition-held areas,.

In a sign of worsening infighting among the rebels, a top al-Qaida commander in Syria was killed in an ambush by a rival, Western-backed group — an assassination sure to raise tensions among factions seeking to topple the regime.

Assad's comments were made as world leaders gathered in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly, where the use of chemical weapons during Syria's civil war was high on the agenda.

The Syrian leader told Chinese state TV that Damascus is committed to implementing the agreement reached between Russia and the United States to surrender its chemical weapons to international control. Syria's stockpile, he said, is “in safe areas and locations and under the full control of the Syrian Arab Army.”

Assad cautioned, however, that the rebels might block inspectors from reaching some of the locations, in order to frame the government.

“I'm referring to places where gunmen exist. Those gunmen might want to stop the experts' arrival,” Assad told CCTV in the interview, which was filmed on Sunday.

Under the agreement brokered Sept. 14 in Geneva, inspectors are to be in Syria by November and all components of the chemical weapons program are to be removed from the country or destroyed by the middle of next year.

The revelations of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal became public as a result of an Aug. 21 attack near Damascus that a U.N. report found included the use of the nerve agent sarin. Hundreds of people died in the attack that brought Washington to the brink of military intervention.

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