UN appoints Dutch official to head Syria mission, increases peace talk efforts
The UN appointed Assistant Secretary General Sigrid Kaag to lead the joint Syrian mission to eradicate the country's chemical weapons, according to AFP. In cooperation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Kaag will direct a team of approximately 100 experts to destroy all of Syria's chemical weapon arsenals my the mid-2014 deadline.
Sixty experts have already begun to dismantle Syria's arms on the ground, reported to be over 1,000 tonnes. According to AFP reports this week, OPCW inspectors have already checked 11 out of the 20 sites identified by the government as chemical weapon facilities.
No mission of this size has been executed during a war, making Kaag's team and work an unprecedented challenge, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Kaag, who has extensive experience in the Middle East, will meet with OPCW leaders at the Hague on Friday before heading to the headquarters of the mission in Cyprus.
During Kaag's appointment announcement, Ban Ki-Moon also announced that he sent appointed UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to meet with "key parties" in the Middle East in an effort to hold a Syrian peace conference in Geneva in mid-November. Another envoy will also be sent to Turkey to meet with Syrian opposition parties and UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman was reported to be in Moscow for related peace talks, according to the UN Secretary General.
In related news, Turkey's army fired four artillery shells at the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State in Irag and the Levant (ISIL) Tuesday in northern Syria after a stray mortar from clashes between ISIL and other jihadist groups near Azaz entered Turkish territory, according to Reuters. Turkey has previously launched similar retaliatory attacks, but this is the first time that ISIL has been specifically targeted. It is not clear if any of the shells have caused any damage.
Syrian regime forces also captured Bweida, south of Damascus on Wednesday according to AFP. The town is close to the Shiite holy site, Sayyida Zeinab, where Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces and rebels have increasingly clashed in recent weeks.