Chemical Weapons Inspectors Visit Three Syria Sites

BEIRUT (AP) -

International inspectors have so far visited three sites linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program, a spokesman said Thursday, as the team races to destroy the country’s stockpile and delivery systems amid a raging civil war.

Underscoring the complexity of the mission, a regime warplane bombed the rebel-held town of Safira, an activist group said. A regime-controlled military complex believed to include chemical weapons facilities is located near the town.

The inspectors are to visit more than 20 sites around the country as part of the disarmament mission. The facilities they inspected in the past 10 days have been in government-held areas, making them fairly easy to reach, said Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Operating on rare consensus, the U.N. has mandated the OPCW to rid Syria of its stockpile by mid-2014 — the tightest deadline ever given to the OPCW. It’s also the first conducted amid ongoing fighting. Syria’s conflicthas been going on since March 2011, with armed rebels fighting against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

At some point, the 27-member team may have to cross rebel-held territory to reach other locations linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. The U.N. hopes to organize cease-fires between rebels and government forces to ensure safe passage.

On Thursday, a regime warplane struck the town of Safira, killing at least 16 people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which obtains its information through a network of activists on the ground. The group did not know what was hit.