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Middle east

Syria hails chemical weapons deal as a ‘victory’

© Photo: AFP

Video by Catherine Clifford

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-15

A Syrian minister on Sunday declared the US-Russia deal to remove the country's chemical weapons a “victory” for Syria, won “thanks to our Russian friends”. The agreement was also cautiously welcomed by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

A Syrian minister has hailed the US-Russian plan to remove the country’s chemical weapons as a “victory” for the Middle East nation, won thanks to Russian diplomacy.

"This agreement, an achievement of Russian diplomats and the Russian leadership, is a victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends," the Minister of State for National Reconciliation, Ali Haidar, told Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Brokered during three days of talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the ambitious plan announced on Saturday sets a mid-2014 deadline to dismantle and destroy Syria's chemical arms stockpile - one of the world's largest  – and calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to account for his chemical arsenal within a week.

Although the agreement contains a clause stipulating that, if Syria falls short of its commitments, Russia and the United States would jointly seek recourse at the UN Security Council, it averts the immediate threat of US-led military strikes against Damascus.

"We welcome this agreement. From one point of view, it will help Syrians exit the crisis, from another, it has prevented a war against Syria, having taken away the pretext for one from those who wanted to unleash (it)," said Haidar.

Israel ‘hopes deal will bear fruit’

On Sunday Israel expressed cautious optimism over the US-Russian agreement as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region to discuss Syria.

"We hope that the Russian-US agreement on Syria's chemical weapons will bear fruit but the real test will be in its implementation: the full dismantling of the regime's chemical weapons stockpile,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu also hopes the deal could push the world to stop Iran, Syria's close ally, from developing nuclear weapons.

Israel believes that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and has identified the international community's response to the Syrian crisis as a “test case” for Iran. Iran denies the charge.

“This test of results also applies to the international community's diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear armament,'' Netanyahu said. “Words will not decide, only actions and results. In any instance, Israel must be ready to defend itself, by itself, against any threat, and this ability and readiness is more important today than ever.''

The deal was also welcomed by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi ahead of a bilateral meeting in Beijing on Sunday.

France has, along with the US, been the main Western backer of military strikes against Assad, while China has joined Russia in repeatedly blocking a UN Security Council Resolution to take action against Damascus.

“We believe the framework agreement will ease the current tense situation that may be triggered at any moment in Syria and creates new prospects for resolving the chemical weapon issue in Syria through peaceful means,” Wang said.

Fabius, who is due to meet Lavrov on Tuesday in Moscow, added that the deal was an important step forward, but cautioned that there was still a long way to go, calling Saturday's agreement "only a first stage".

French President François Hollande, meanwhile, was due to make a statement about Syria on French television at 8pm on Sunday evening.

Syrian rebels want ban on government air power

However, while the international community has largely welcomed the Syria deal, the Syrian rebels, fighting to oust Assad since March 2011, have rejected the agreement, warning it would not halt the conflict that has killed more than 110,000 people and displaced millions.

On Sunday, the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group called for a ban on the use of ballistic missiles and air power by Assad's forces, in addition to the prohibition on chemical weapons.

“Chemical weapons attacks are a part of a bigger scheme of crimes against humanity committed by the Assad regime, including using the Syrian air forces and ballistic missiles on residential areas,'' the Syrian National Coalition said in a statement posted on its official website.

“The Syrian Coalition insists that the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons … be extended to include the prohibition of the use of air forces and ballistic missiles on residential areas.''

After meeting Netanyahu for a few hours, Kerry flies to Paris for Monday talks with Fabius and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, as well as Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was also due to meet Kerry in Paris on Monday after the two men talked during the flight to Jerusalem, a US official said.

The Paris leg of Kerry's diplomacy will come the same day as the United Nations is due to release its investigation of an August 21 attack near Damascus, which the US alleges involved the use of sarin gas unleashed by Assad’s forces and killing some 1,400 people.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-09-15

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