Free Syrian Army rebels reject Russian chemical arms plan

BEIRUT (AFP) - The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) on Thursday categorically rejected a Russian proposal for placing Syria's chemical arms under international control, and called for regime officials to be brought to justice.

The Syrian National Coalition opposition group also questioned the initiative, saying it is a "political manoeuvre aimed at buying time" for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

"The Free Syrian Army announces its categorical rejection of the Russian initiative that foresees placing chemical weapons under international control," FSA military commander General Selim Idriss said in a video posted on YouTube.

He told world powers that they should not "be satisfied only by removing the chemical weapon, which is the tool of a crime, but judge the author of the crime before the International Criminal Court''.

He added that "the author of the crime" has clearly acknowledged possessing chemical weapons and agreed to get rid of them.

Questioning the motives for the initiative by Russia, a close ally of Mr Assad, the coalition's overnight statement also said it would be unacceptable unless it "called to account the crimes against the Syrian people." And any measures should be adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for possible military measures.

It said that if the "response to Syria of the international community is not efficient and effective, Iran, North Korea and the militia of Hezbollah (Lebanon's powerful Shiite movement and an Assad ally) will consider it a green light to manufacture and use chemical weapons."

Mr Idriss also called on countries backing the 30-month uprising against Mr Assad to increase the supply of arms to the rebels so that they can "continue to liberate the country".

And he exhorted his fighters to "intensify operations in all regions of the country".

The United States claims that the regime carried out chemical weapons strikes on a number of Damascus suburbs on August 21, killing more than 1,400 people and threatened to carry out punitive strikes.

Mr Assad's government denies that, saying it was rebels that did so.

Russia on Monday announced a proposal under which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons, and US President Barack Obama postponed any military action to consider the Russian initiative.

The four-point plan, details of which were disclosed on Wednesday, would see Syria becoming a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), according to a report in Moscow.

Syria would then have to declare the location of chemical weapons arsenals and then allow OPCW inspectors to examine them and finally decide, in cooperation with the inspectors, how to destroy them.

UN inspectors have already visited the sites of the alleged attacks in Damascus, and France has said their report will probably be issued on Monday.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French radio on Thursday "it will say that there was a chemical massacre" and that "there will certainly be indications" of the origin of the attack.