Syria has accepted Russia's proposal to place the war-torn country's chemical weapons under international control for dismantling, a move dismissed by Syria's main opposition bloc and that has raised skepticism among some in the global community.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in Moscow on Tuesday after meeting with the Russian parliament's Speaker that his government agreed to the Russian initiative to "derail the U.S. aggression."
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Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia is working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action that will be presented soon.
Lavrov said Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Despite Syria's acceptance of the Russian proposal, the Syrian National Coalition urged the West to strike Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, saying Syria's acceptance of the proposal is a manoeuvre to escape punishment for chemical attacks in the Damascus area last month.
In a statement, the coalition said Moscow's proposal "aims to procrastinate and will lead to more death and destruction of the Syrian people."
"A violation of international law should lead to an international retaliation that is proportional in size," the group said. "Crimes against humanity cannot be dropped by giving political concessions or by handing over the weapons used in these crimes."
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Western officials expressed worries earlier that the Russian proposal was simply a delaying tactic aimed at averting strikes, and offered no prospect of resolving the Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011 and has killed more than 100,000 people, according to UN reports.
The alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people, according to the U.S., which has blamed the assaults on the Assad regime.
U.S. President Barack Obama had said Monday the Russian proposal could be "potentially a significant breakthrough," but remained skeptical, ahead of Congress debate later this week on whether the U.S. should launch military strikes on Syria.
On Tuesday, France said it would push for a UN resolution setting out terms for the destruction of its chemical weapons and warning of "serious consequences" if it resisted.
In Israel, senior politicians also voiced skepticism about Russia's proposal.
Avigdor Lieberman, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the head of the parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, told Israel Radio that Assad is using the proposal to "buy time." He also said the logistics of a weapons transfer are unclear.
Israeli President Shimon Peres warned on Monday that negotiations over a weapons transfer would be "tough" and that Syria is "not trustworthy."
Meanwhile, Nabil Elaraby, chief of the Arab League, which has blamed Syria for last month's alleged chemical weapons attacks, said Tuesday he supports Russia's proposal, adding that the league has been always in favour of a "political resolution." The league has called for whoever was behind the attacks to be brought to justice, but it doesn't support military action without UN consent.
Nerve agent 'most likely' sarin
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch said it examined documents from the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus and concluded that the nerve agent used was, "most likely, sarin."
In a 22-page report released Tuesday, the group said it was unable to go to Ghouta to collect remnants of weapons, environmental and bodily samples such as hair and blood of the victims to test for the chemical agent, but that it sought technical advice from an expert on the detection and effects of chemical warfare agents.
Human Rights Watch also said it analyzed witness accounts and "the type of rockets and launchers used" in last month's attacks. As well, the group studied the medical symptoms of Syrian people affected by the chemicals and analyzed activist videos posted on the internet.
"This evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning," said Peter Bouckaert, HRW's emergencies director.
Assad and government officials have denied their forces used chemical agents. Instead, they blame the Syrian rebels for staging the attacks to gain international sympathy.
In an interview on CBS on Monday, Assad warned that there will be retaliation against the U.S. for any military strike against Syria.
"You should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government," he said when asked to elaborate, an apparent reference to the possibility the regime could unleash allied militant groups such as the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. He added, addressing the U.S., that it would "pay the price if you are not wise with dealing with terrorists."
With files from The Associated Press, Reuters