Chemical weapons inspectors have arrived in Damascus and are ready to go, but the task ahead of them will be made even more difficult as the country's civil war rages around them. The inspection team, sent from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, arrived in Damascus on Tuesday and headed out to begin their work on Wednesday.
According to a statement from the United Nations, the team will mostly be gathering information and formulating a plan over the first few days. "In the coming days, their efforts are expected to focus on verifying information provided by the Syrian authorities and the initial planning phase of helping the country destroy its chemical weapons production facilities," the statement read.
After that, inspectors will have to work overtime to meet their tight deadlines. The group is charged with helping Syria to disable its capabilities to create chemical weapons by November, and then destroying its arsenal of existing chemical weapons by the middle of 2014.
That's a tall order made even more difficult by the ongoing civil war that continues as inspectors try to make their way to sites throughout the country to inventory weapons and oversee plans for their destruction. Fighting between Syrian troops and al Qaeda opposition forces left at least 12 Syrian soldiers dead on Tuesday. The battle occurred in the district of Barzeh, near Damascus.
And the fighting isn't just relegated to clashes between government troops and rebel forces. More inter-rebel fighting has been reported in the past few months as different factions of the Syrian opposition continue to clash.
As the inspection group travels throughout the country, they'll not only be checking in on reported warehouses where chemical weapons are kept, but are also authorized to conduct surprise visits on areas they believe may also hold weapons.
The disarmament and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons is the last effort to avert a military strike by the U.S. in response to the use of sarin gas on a large population in August. Failure to meet the tight deadline could put the two countries back on the brink of military confrontation.