The Nobel Prize Committee's decision to award its prestigious peace prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, whose inspectors are currently at work dismantling Syria's Bashar Assad's chemical stockpiles, was met with derision by the Syrian opposition, which considers it a fig-leaf for a West silent in the face of Assad's crimes.
“I would have thought that 2013 would have been a year for soul searching at OPCW, not accolades," said Nadim Houry, director of Human Rights Watch in Beirut.
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UN inspectors are currently supervising Syria's chemical weapons disarmament, following a US-Russia deal according to which Syria will dismantle such weapons, and in return, the US will withdraw its threat of military action.
UN inspectors supervising weapons dismantling (Photo: EPA)
Inspectors in Syria (Photo: Reuters)
The military action was meant to punish Assad for the chemical weapons massacre in Damascus' suburbs on August 21, in which nearly 1,500 people were killed. Washington claims that Assad used chemical weapons on at least 13 other occasions this year.
The US decision to avoid military action in light of the dismantling deal raised the Syrian opposition's ire, which viewed it a green-light for Assad to continue killing civilians using conventional means.
"If this prize gives the impression that the chemical weapons inspections in Syria will help foster peace, then it's a wrong perception," said Louay Safi Safi, who serves as a political strategist for the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition.
"We welcome the removal of chemical weapons that were used by Assad against civilians," Safi added. "But demolishing the regime's chemical weapons alone will not bring peace to Syria because many more people are dying because Assad's troops are killing them with all types of conventional weapons."
Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, echoed that stance and said the world has forgotten tens of thousands of Syrians killed by conventional weapons in the civil war.
"They forgot about our blood," he said. "Our problem is not just chemical weapons."
Conversely, a Syrian lawmaker said Friday that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the global chemical watchdog underscores "the credibility" of the Damascus government and its intentions to destroy its deadly arsenal.
Fayez Sayegh, a lawmaker and member of Assad's ruling Baath party, told The Associated Press that by allowing the inspectors in, Syria is "giving an example to countries that have chemical and nuclear weapons."
He said the OPCW should work to rid the entire Middle East - including Israel - of weapons of mass destruction.
However, the OPCW did not pat itself on the back for winning the prize. "We will celebrate the Nobel Peace Prize when our mission in Syria will be completed successfully," said Jerry Smith, chief of field operations for the mission in Syria.
A team of OPCW and the UN have been at work in Syria since October 1. Inspectors have already begun to supervise the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles. According to the timetable, all weapons must be dismantled by November 1.
The team has been reinforced and now has 60 people. About 20 sites must be inspected within the next few weeks, some in "danger zones."
The OPCW, which sits in Holland, will receive the prize on December 10. Heading the group is Ahmet Uzumcu, who served as Turkey's ambassador to Israel on 1999-2000.
The OPCW counts 189 countries among its members, and recently Syria has also formally joined. Israel is one of the few non-member countries. Though Israel signed the treaty in 1993, it never ratified it.
In addition to Israel, Egypt, North Korea, Angola and South Sudan are also not members.
AP, AFP contributed to this report
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