Syrian rebel leadership rejects Russian arms initiative

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Western-backed Syrian rebel leadership council has rejected a Russian proposal to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control, the group said in a video statement. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met in New York on Wednesday to discuss the plan, which would aim to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and avert a U.S. military strike. U.S. President Barack Obama had threatened to carry out the strike to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for an apparent chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs last month. "We announce our definitive rejection of the Russian initiative to place chemical weapons under international custody," Salim Idriss, head of the rebel Supreme Military Council, said in a video posted online late on Wednesday. Flanked by four rebel leaders, Idriss said Assad must be held accountable after Syria admitted for the first time to possessing chemical weapons - something it says it needed to counter Israel's assumed nuclear arsenal. "We ask that the international community not be content with withdrawing chemical weapons, which are a criminal instrument, but to hold the perpetrator accountable and prosecute him at the International Criminal Court," Idriss said. "Removing the criminal tools is one matter and holding the criminal accountable is another," he said, calling on "friendly" countries to provide more weapons and ammunition to the rebels. More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's 2-1/2-year conflict, the overwhelming majority of them killed by conventional weapons. The uprising began as a peaceful protest movement against four decades of Assad family rule and turned into a civil war after a government crackdown. (Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Writing by Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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