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Russia to help guard Syrian weapons destruction

Sep. 26, 2013 - 12:26PM   |  
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MOSCOW — Russia offered on Thursday to provide troops to guard facilities where Syria's chemical weapons would be destroyed, as U.N. inspectors prepared to continue their probe on the use of such agents in the country's civil war.

In the latest infighting among rebels, activists said a commander of a local al-Qaida offshoot died in clashes with Kurdish militiamen in northern Syria, the second senior group leader to be killed in a week.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the fighting in Syria, said the commander, from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, died Wednesday night during ongoing fighting with Kurds in the northern province of Aleppo. The Britain-based group did not provide the man's name but identified him in a statement Thursday as a UAE national and the emir — or local commander — of Aleppo.

On Monday, a top al-Qaida commander was killed in an ambush by rival Western-backed rebels.

Infighting between al-Qaida-linked extremists and other, more moderate rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad has spiked in recent days.

Also Thursday, a mortar shell slammed into the Iraqi consulate building in central Damascus, killing one person and wounding three, Syrian state media reported.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia is ready to ensure security and help guard facilities, once the chemical weapons are stored for destruction in Syria. He spoke just hours before diplomats at the United Nations said the five permanent members of the divided U.N. Security Council appeared to have reached agreement on a resolution requiring Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles.

Russia's deputy foreign minister had said negotiators had overcome a major hurdle and agreed that the text of the resolution would include a reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote security.

The U.S. and Russia have been at odds on how to enforce the resolution.

Meanwhile, a team of U.N. inspectors was back in Syria to investigate three alleged incidents of chemical weapons use earlier this year. They will also seek information on three other attacks last month that allegedly included chemical agents. The inspectors were seen leaving their Damascus hotel in a vehicle convoy on Thursday afternoon, but there was no immediate indication where they were going.

The U.N. inspectors first came to Damascus last month to probe a March 19 attack and two other incidents in the north when an alleged chemical attack occurred outside the Syrian capital. They returned to Syria on Wednesday.

The Aug. 21 incident in the eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus became their focus after the United States and its allies said Assad's troops were responsible for the chemical attack that killed hundreds. The U.S. threated punitive strikes; Assad's government denied the allegations and said the rebels were behind the Ghouta attack.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia is ready to ensure security and help guard facilities, once the chemical weapons are stored for destruction in Syria.

He emphasized that Moscow will not accept the Syrian chemical weapons to be dismantled in Russian territory.

"We believe that it should be dismantled on Syrian territory," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "We undoubtedly won't deal with it. We believe that the process of its destruction could be efficiently organized on the territory of Syria."

The attack on the Iraqi consulate came a day after Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned Western nations that support the Syrian opposition not to send military aid to the rebels for fear it could assist jihadi groups.

According to Syria state news agency SANA, an Iraqi woman was killed and three others were wounded when a mortar shell struck the building that houses the consulate in the upscale Abu Roumanneh district of Damascus. The shell hit the consulate's hallway in which people were waiting to process their documents or visas, SANA said.

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Surk reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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