Syrian official lauds Nobel prize for inspectors

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By BARBARA SURK and BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian lawmaker said Friday that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the global chemical watchdog underscores "the credibility" of the Damascus government and its intentions to destroy its deadly arsenal.

But an opposition figure described the award as "a premature step" that will allegedly divert attention from the "real cause" of the country's bloodshed — the regime in Damascus.

Both spoke hours after the announcement in Oslo that The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize for working to eliminate the scourge that has haunted generations from World War I to the battlefields of Syria.

The organization had largely worked out of the limelight until this year, when the United Nations called on its expertise to help investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Their task is unprecedented — the U.N. has mandated the OPCW to rid Syria of its 1,000-ton stockpile of chemical weapons by mid-2014.

It's the tightest deadline ever given to the organization and also the first conducted amid ongoing fighting. Syria's conflict, which erupted in March 2011, has pitted disorganized armed rebels against forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The inspectors' mission stems from a deadly Aug. 21 attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in which the U.N. has determined the nerve agent sarin was used. The U.S. and its allies accuse the Syrian government of being responsible for the attack, which killed hundreds, while Damascus blames the rebels.

Fayez Sayegh, a lawmaker and member of Assad's ruling Baath party, told The Associated Press that by allowing the inspectors in, Syria is "giving an example to countries that have chemical and nuclear weapons."

He said the OPCW should work to rid the entire Middle East — including Israel — of weapons of mass destruction.

But Louay Safi, a senior figure in Syria's main opposition bloc, warned that giving the Nobel prize to the OPCW was too premature.

"If this prize gives the impression that the chemical weapons inspections in Syria will help foster peace, then it's a wrong perception," Safi, who serves as a political strategist for the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, told the AP over the phone from Qatar.

"We welcome the removal of chemical weapons that were used by Assad against civilians," Safi added. "But demolishing the regime's chemical weapons alone will not bring peace to Syria because many more people are dying because Assad's troops are killing them with all types of conventional weapons."

Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, echoed that stance and said the world has forgotten tens of thousands of Syrians killed by conventional weapons in the civil war.

"They forgot about our blood," he said. "Our problem is not just chemical weapons."

Syria's conflict has killed more than 100,000 people so far and laid waste to the countries' cities, shattered its economy and driven more than 2 million people to seek shelter abroad. At least 5 million people have been have been internally displaced.

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