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September 14, 2013

Syrian Rebels Dismiss Chemical Weapons Framework

by Edward Yeranian

The head of the opposition Free Syrian Army says that a Russian-brokered plan to rid Syria of its chemical weapons will not solve the two-and-a-half-year-old conflict in his country. The rebel commander spoke to journalists Saturday in Istanbul, as heavy fighting continued in the Damascus suburbs. 

Syrian government troops pounded the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of Barzeh, Madhamiya and Joubar with field artillery and from the air. The ongoing government offensive coincided with U.S.-Russian negotiations in Geneva that produced a framework Saturday for dismantling Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons.

In Istanbul, rebel military commander General Selim Idriss condemned the plan, arguing that Russia was not a neutral party.

He says the opposition categorically rejects the proposal, because it has no faith in the Assad regime or in Russia, which helps the regime to kill Syrians. He said the initiative is an attempt to gain time and find an exit for the [Assad] regime. He adds that the initiative has nothing in it for the opposition, which will continue to fight.

Meanwhile, Syria's government news channel al-Ikhbariya accused neighboring Turkey of supplying the rebels with chemical weapons. The TV broadcast asked if Washington is planning to “punish its ally Turkey” as a part of the chemical weapons plan. It also showed what it claimed were bags of chemicals with the label “made in Saudi Arabia.”

​​Rebel commander General Idriss, however, insisted his forces “have no chemical weapons on territory controlled by the Free Syrian Army,” adding they would “not hinder the work of U.N. monitors” if they wished to enter rebel-held territory as part of their mission.

Both General Idriss and other opposition figures are also accusing the Syrian government of covertly moving parts of its chemical weapons stockpile to neighboring Lebanon and Iraq. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the Assad regime had dispersed that stockpile to 50 sites across the country.

Opposition sources claimed that government warplanes bombed rebel positions near the southern city of Daraa to prevent them from advancing.  Government planes also reportedly bombed rebel positions in the northern town of Saraqeb, near Idlib, Saturday.