A group of international inspectors are now in Syria to start the difficult task of dismantling and destroying the country's chemical arms stockpile. A 19-vehicle convoy arrived in Damascus late Tuesday from Syria's border with Lebanon, escorted by officials from Syria's Foreign Ministry.
The Associated Press reports that the advance team includes 14 staff members from the United Nations along with 19 inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The OPCW, which is based at The Hague in the Netherlands, is the group authorized by the U.N. Security Council to oversee the scrapping of Syria's stockpile by the middle of next year. The New York Times reports that among the 19 OPCW inspectors are personnel from all five of the U.N. Security Council's permanent member states: the United States, China, Russia, Great Britain, and France.
Officials at The Hague told The Times on Sunday that the team's first goal will be stopping Syria's ability to manufacture chemical weapons. The deadline for that task is November 1, according to the the OPCW's own timeline. The AP report stipulates that goal will be accomplished "using every means possible."
The destruction mission could include smashing mixing equipment with sledgehammers, blowing up delivery missiles, driving tanks over empty shells or filling them with concrete, and running machines without lubricant so they seize up and become inoperable.
This will be the first time the OPCW has worked in a country in the midst of all-out war, but it does have experience working in conflict zones like Iraq and Libya. Negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, between the Syria's two warring factions, opposition rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, have been delayed repeatedly for months with the two sides unable to even agree on who should take part in such talks.
This mission to destroy Syria's chemical stockpile was launched after a chemical weapons attack took place in a Damascus suburb on August 21. That attack was confirmed in mid-September by a United Nations report.
A second group of inspectors is due in Syria next week according to The Guardian. In total, about 100 monitors will then form teams to inspect individual sites across Syria with their routes being kept secret in order to protect their safety and because Syria retains the right to keep military secrets protected.
After two-and-a-half years of civil war, more than 115,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The British-based group estimates over 41,000 of those deaths were civilians, including 6,000 children and 4,000 women.