U.S. offers to destroy some Syrian chemicals in coming weeks

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(CNN) — The United States has offered to destroy Syria’s “priority chemicals,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Saturday.

“The United States has offered to contribute a destruction technology, full operational support and financing to neutralize Syria’s priority chemicals, which are to be removed from the country by 31 December,” the group said in a statement.

A joint OPCW-United Nations team charged with overseeing the destruction of the weapons began inspecting sites in October. The U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized the mission set a deadline of mid-2014 for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons or face consequences.

The goal is to move the most dangerous chemicals out of the country as quickly as possible, said Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint team.

The operation will be conducted on a U.S. vessel at sea using hydrolysis, a method that dilutes the most dangerous chemicals to a point where they can be disposed of safely.

The OPCW has turned to the private sector for the destruction of Syria’s other chemicals, including common industrial ones.

An estimated 1.8 million pounds (800 metric tons), accounting for a major part of Syria’s stockpile, is to be disposed of commercially at a cost estimated at $47 million to $54 million.

Some 35 companies have expressed interest and are being evaluated, the OPCW said.

The U.N. resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons was based on a deal struck between the United States and Russia that averted an American military strike over allegations the Syrian government used sarin nerve gas in an August 21 attack on a Damascus suburb. U.S. officials said at least 1,400 people died in the attack. Syria denied responsibility, blaming rebel forces.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people overall have died since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. It began with a government crackdown on peaceful protesters during the Arab Spring movement, then slowly and bloodily spiraled into a a full-blown civil war.

There was more bloodshed Saturday in the Middle Eastern nation.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria blamed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for a “horrible massacre against civilians” in al-Bab, in Aleppo province. The network of opposition activists said at least 21 people died after Syrian warplanes dropped “explosive barrels” on the city.

These were among at least 72 people killed nationwide Saturday, the LCC reported.

While it did not mention Al-Bab specifically, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, reported that government troops killed “dozens of terrorists” in Aleppo province.

The units additionally destroyed “missile launchers” — some of which, the SANA report claimed, had been “used by terrorists to target residents” — “and cars loaded with weapons and ammunition in several villages and towns.”

The conflict, once again, spilled outside Syria’s borders on Saturday.

At least five people died in clashes between pro and anti-Syrian regime groups in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s state-run news agency NNA reported Saturday.

Lebanese Armed Forces have retaliated with gunfire in the area in an attempt to restore calm, according to NNA. The clashes are one more illustration on how Lebanon is being drawn deeper into Syria’s civil war.

CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen contributed to this report

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