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Inspectors visit 11 chemical weapons sites in Syria

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By The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

Inspectors have visited almost half of Syria's declared chemical weapons sites as part of an ambitious plan to destroy the nation's lethal stockpiles, an international watchdog agency said on Wednesday.

A team of experts in Syria has now “concluded verification activities” at 11 sites, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement. All “were well within government-held territory,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based agency overseeing the undertaking.

Inspectors were unable to visit one site because of security issues, Luhan said.

The OPCW's director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, has said that temporary cease-fires may be required to inspect some of the more than 20 sites identified by Syrian officials as chemical weapons facilities. Such inspections would require guarantees of safety from both government and opposition groups.

Syrian officials have said publicly that as many as seven chemical sites may be in areas where anti-government rebels are active.

The joint United Nations-OPCW team is undertaking the unprecedented task of trying to eliminate a nation's chemical arsenal in the middle of a war.

Inspectors must meet a number of tight deadlines, including a Nov. 1 target for rendering Syria's chemical weapons facilities inoperable. Under the U.N.-approved timetable, all of Syria's chemical weapons are to be destroyed by mid-2014.

The accelerated schedule arose from a U.S.-Russian accord that averted U.S. airstrikes in retaliation for a series of poison gas attacks on rebel-held areas outside Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Aug. 21.

The Syrian government denied any role in the attacks and blamed opposition forces.

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