Russia destroys 'chemical weapons sites' in Syria

Russia has "just finished dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal" according to a headline on the "alternative" website Voltaire Network. The story says Russian forces have destroyed two chemical weapons sites belonging to the Syrian army which "had been occupied by jihadists". 

A separate report by Iran's Press TV adds that these were "the last" chemical weapons sites in Syria.

The implication in both reports is that since the sites were in rebel-held territory until recently, rebels could have gained access to chemical weapons and could thus be responsible for the chemical attacks that have killed hundreds of people in Syria.

What neither report mentions is that inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) established four years ago that the two sites were inactive and posed no chemical threat.

In 2013, following the sarin attacks on Ghouta – for which the regime was widely blamed – Syria joined the international Chemical Weapons Convention and agreed to the dismantling of its stockpiles and production facilities.

It declared 23 chemical weapons sites, of which 21 were quickly verified by inspectors. The two remaining declared sites were in rebel-held areas (at undisclosed locations) and OPCW inspectors were unable to visit them for safety and security reasons.

However, the OPCW did manage to check them by other means and a report published in November 2013 described how this was done.

In the case of one site:

"Verification was conducted with the support of sealed GPS cameras used by Syrian personnel, in accordance with the guidance of the inspection team. The exact geographical location and the time the footage/images were captured were then fully authenticated. As stated in the initial declaration, the site was confirmed as long abandoned and the building showed extensive battle damage." 

The second unvisited site had also been declared by the regime as inactive, and the inspectors were satisfied that this was true. Their report said: "The items from this site were moved to other accessible sites and have been verified against the data declared by the Syrian Arab Republic." 

Although the regime blames rebels for the chemical attacks it has consistently denied that any of its own chemical weapons have fallen into rebel hands.