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Continued: Assad: Syria to submit data on its chemical weapons stockpile a month after signing convention

  • Article by: BASSEM MROUE , Associated Press
  • Last update: September 12, 2013 - 6:15 PM

He added that the Free Syrian Army "categorically rejects the Russian initiative" as falling short of the expectations of rebel fighters.

The U.S. accuses Assad's government of being behind the attack in the suburb of Ghouta. The U.S. says the attack killed 1,429 people; other estimates of the deaths are lower.

Assad has denied responsibility and accuses U.S. officials of spreading lies without providing evidence.

In the interview Thursday, he charged that the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack was a "U.S.-organized provocation."

"The threats (of a military strike) are based on a provocation. It was arranged with the use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta," he said.

In Geneva, Kerry and a team of U.S. experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts. The Americans hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.

In Washington, officials said the CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other small arms to Syrian rebels for several weeks, following President Barack Obama's decision to arm the rebels.

The agency also has arranged for the Syrian opposition to receive anti-tank weapons like rocket-propelled grenades through a third party, presumably one of the Gulf countries that has been arming the rebels, a senior U.S. intelligence official and two former intelligence officials said Thursday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the classified program publicly.

Loay al-Mikdad, a Free Syrian Army spokesman, told the AP that they have not received any weapons from the U.S. although they expect some in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels fighting Assad's forces on Thursday captured the village of Imm al-Lokas in the southern region of Quneitra near Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Britain-based activist group added that rebels also captured several army posts in the area in heavy fighting that caused casualties on both sides.

It also said that in the northeastern province of Hassakeh, clashes pitting Kurdish fighters against members of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in the past two days killed 13 Kurdish gunmen and 35 militants.

The two sides have been fighting in northern Syria for months in battles that left scores of people dead on both sides.

Syrian state media said government troops advanced in the predominantly Christian village of Maaloula near Damascus, capturing the main square as well as the Mar Takla convent where several nuns were staying.

A resident in the village told the AP that troops were trying to capture a rebel-held hotel on a hill overlooking the area. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said most of the fighting Thursday was taking place in the western part of the village.

Government troops are trying to flush out rebel units, including two linked to al-Qaida, from the hilltop enclave the rebels broke into last week.

Most of the village's 3,300 residents have fled to safer parts of the country, although some have remained, hunkering down in their homes, activists said.

Maaloula, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Damascus, had until recently been firmly in the regime's grip despite being surrounded by rebel-held territory. The village was a major tourist attraction before the civil war. Some of its residents still speak a version of Aramaic, a biblical language believed to have been used by Jesus.

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  • FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures as he speaks during an interview with a Russian newspaper, in Damascus, Syria. yria will subject its chemical weapons to international monitoring because of Russia, not because of threats made by the United States, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Rossiya 24. (AP Photo/SANA, File)

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