Syria's main Western-backed rebel group on Tuesday said its forces possess none of the war-torn country's chemical-arms installations, Agence France-Presse reported.
The assertion followed a Monday New York Times report that Syrian President Bashar Assad's opponents are facing fresh calls to clear the way for international personnel charged with destroying all chemical weapons held by his government. Assad's regime admitted possessing a chemical arsenal and agreed to its destruction in September, as the United States was preparing a potential military response to a nerve-gas strike weeks earlier in rebel-controlled territory.
“There are chemical sites under regime control that Free Syrian Army brigades are laying siege to but there are no chemical sites at all that are controlled by the rebel brigades,” the opposition Syrian National Coalition said in released comments quoted by AFP.
The Syrian National Coalition said it wants “full cooperation with all international missions to facilitate their work and ensure their full protection.”
The coalition statement does not suggest that all of Syria's chemical-warfare materials are necessarily in Assad's custody. The leader is battling multiple rebel factions, including some affiliated with al-Qaeda.
The disarmament process is scheduled to wrap up by the middle of 2014. However, "Assad has an interest in dragging this out," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council is likely to sign off on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's nominee to head chemical-disarmament operations in Syria, envoys on Monday told the Associated Press. The U.N. chief named veteran international official Sigrid Kaag to oversee the effort.