Damascus: Syria is set to hand over a detailed plan for the destruction of its chemical arsenal by Thursday, days ahead of a UN deadline, the international watchdog said.
But prospects for a peace conference, which the world body is trying to convene in parallel with the disarmament process, looked dim after key opposition leaders spurned efforts by Western and Arab powers to persuade them to attend.
And on the ground violence raged unabated, with a rebel attack on a gas pipeline causing power outages across Syria and a deadly car bombing and shelling hitting Damascus.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Wednesday that the Syrian government was expected to hand over its disarmament plan within the next 24 hours.
The plan is the next step for Damascus under the terms of a US-Russian deal to head off military strikes on Syria which calls for all its chemical weapons and production facilities to be destroyed by mid-2014.
“We expect Syria’s initial declaration of its chemical weapons programme within the next 24 hours,” spokesman Michael Luhan told reporters in The Hague, where the OPCW is based.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has already handed over an inventory of its chemicals, weapons and facilities, and a joint UN-OPCW team has been in Syria since the start of the month inspecting and destroying them.
The team has now checked 18 of 23 declared sites in Syria, destroying production equipment at almost all of them, Luhan said.
Leaders of the National Coalition — the main opposition umbrella group — insisted they will not attend unless regime change and Assad’s departure are on the table.
A meeting in London Tuesday between opposition leaders and 11 governments from the Friends of Syria group produced little more than a joint statement that Assad should play no future role in government.
Damascus retorted on Wednesday that no foreign party could be involved in deciding the country’s leadership.
“The Syrian people will not allow any foreign party to impose itself … in choosing a government, or in determining its powers and tasks,” the foreign ministry said.
It said the government was ready to attend the planned Geneva conference to “try its best to ensure its success without any preconditions or any foreign intervention.”
‘No negotiations if Assad departure not on table’
But Coalition head Ahmad Jarba showed no signs of readiness to compromise.
“The only thing we are willing to negotiate is a transfer of all power and then the departure of the mass killer (Assad),” he said.
On the ground, rebels shelled two of Damascus’s main squares on killing five people and wounding at least 22, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
And an attack by rebels near the capital caused a power outage across Syria, state news agency SANA quoted Electricity Minister Emad Khamis as saying.
An AFP journalist in Damascus said he could see from a distance a huge fire blazing near Damascus International Airport, which is located near the affected power station.
He also confirmed power was out in the capital.
The Observatory reported outages in several areas, including Aleppo in the north and Homs in the centre.
“It is likely this was a large-scale operation planned well in advance,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
In September, a similar outage was caused after a high voltage power line was sabotaged.