Middle East

Syria chemical weapons: 'Progress on inspections'

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are pictured as they return to their hotel in Damascus, 3 October, 2013.
Image caption Experts drove back to their hotel in Damascus after talks with Syrian officials

A team given the job of eliminating Syria's chemical weapons says it has made "encouraging initial progress" after talks with government officials.

UN-backed experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syrian documents handed over on Wednesday "looked promising".

The team said analysis of technical diagrams would be necessary and "more questions remain to be answered".

Onsite inspections and arms disabling are scheduled to start next week.

The timetable is dependent on the outcome of preparatory talks with Syrian experts which began on Wednesday, a statement issued by the UN in New York said.

Ghouta attack

The experts said they wanted to verify the information handed over by the Syrian government. Their next stated priority was to ensure the inspection teams' safety and security.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said: "The technical experts need to study everything they are given very closely.

"There is clearly... good cooperation with the Syrian authorities at the expert level to try to understand the material provided to the advance team from the UN and OPCW."

The inspectors' daily work on the ground has been shrouded in secrecy.

A convoy of three UN vehicles was seen leaving a hotel in central Damascus on Thursday but their destination was not clear.

A second group of inspectors is expected to join the mission in Syria within a week.

Nineteen disarmament experts had arrived in Syria on Tuesday with the aim of implementing a UN resolution requiring the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014.

One of the key areas they are working on is to make practical arrangements for destroying chemical weapons material and equipment.

Concerted international action to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons was agreed by the UN Security Council last week.

Its resolution was based on a deal reached by the United States and Russia in Geneva last month.

The US had threatened military action to punish the Syrian government over a nerve agent attack in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August.

The Americans said more than 1,400 people were killed. Russia and Syria believe rebel groups were responsible for the attack.

Syria's chemical weapons arsenal is believed to include more than 1,000 tonnes of the nerve gas sarin, the blister agent sulphur mustard and other banned chemicals stored at dozens of sites.

Last month, it submitted to the OPCW a full account of its arsenal.

It also acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in line with the US-Russian initiative.