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Syria opposition says chemical weapons deal is a delay tactic

September 14, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Secretary of State John F. Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speak in Geneva after reaching a deal on Syrian chemical weapons.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei… (Martial Trezzini / European…)

BEIRUT — The Western-backed Syrian armed opposition on Saturday rejected as a delaying tactic a U.S.-Russian deal to destroy chemical arms stockpiles in the possession of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We don’t recognize the Russian initiative and we think that the Russian and the Syrian regime are playing a game to waste time and to win time for the criminal regime in Damascus,” Gen. Selim Idriss, who heads the rebel Supreme Military Council, told reporters in Istanbul, Turkey.

“We think that our friends in the Western countries and the United States know exactly the main goal of the Russian administration," he added. "They are trying to find a solution for the murderer regime in Damascus.”

The general, nominal leader of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army rebel umbrella group, spoke after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, announced the chemical disarmament agreement in Geneva. He did not directly accuse Washington of a betrayal, but that seemed to be implied in his remarks.

The Assad government views the chemical weapons hand-over as a means to avoid U.S. airstrikes that could tilt the balance of power in favor of anti-government rebels in the more than two-year civil war. Syria also agreed to become party to an international convention banning the production and use of chemical weapons.

U.S. and other Western officials have accused the government of being behind a poison gas strike outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds. Syrian officials have blamed armed rebels for mounting the attack in a bid to frame the government for the incident and draw international intervention.

Saturday’s accord was a bitter disappointment for armed opposition groups that had been counting on U.S. airstrikes to weaken the government defenses and allow rebel forces to retake the offensive. In recent months, pro-government loyalist forces have pushed back the fragmented rebel brigades from strategic positions throughout Syria.

Qassim Saadeddine, a rebel spokesman, told Reuters: “Let [the] Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria.”

The U.S.-Russian plan calls for international inspectors to enter Syria, catalog the nation's chemical armaments and eliminate the toxic arsenal by the middle of next year. The plan envisions that government and opposition forces would cooperate with the inspectors’ work. Washington and Moscow acknowledge that the plan faces considerable logistical and security challenges inside war-ravaged Syria.

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patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Twitter: @mcdneville

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