LONDON – Pressure mounted on Syrian rebels Monday to permit access to chemical weapons sites in areas under their control, as the head of the international watchdog on such toxic munitions said the rapidly shifting lines in the civil war made it difficult for inspectors to reach some locations.
Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, told the BBC that the government of President Bashar Assad had been cooperating with inspectors who had reached 5 out of 20 chemical weapons production sites.
But some other sites had “access problems,” he said, reflecting perils and complexities facing inspectors who are trying to dismantle chemical weapons facilities as the war rages around them.
Some roads “change hands from one day to another, which is why we appeal to all sides in Syria to support this mission, to be cooperative and not render this mission more difficult,” Uzumcu said. “It’s already challenging.”
A Western diplomat in the Arab world, moreover, said that while the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons, its opponents should cooperate in the process, as several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.
“The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
The inspection team has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters impeding access to chemical weapons sites.
The inspectors began arriving in Syria on Oct. 1 under an agreement brokered by the United States and Russia for Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons capability after a poison gas attack on Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus. Assad has denied accusations from the United States that Syrian government forces were responsible for the attack, which killed hundreds of people.
The inspectors are facing a tight deadline set by the United Nations to complete their work by mid-2014.
On Monday, Syria became the 190th member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by formally acceding to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which is intended to rid the world of such munitions.