A team of UN inspectors investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria has wrapped up its mission and left the country.
A convoy of vehicles carrying the experts left Damascus earlier on September 30 and was expected to arrive in Beirut. It was the inspectors' second mission to Syria in two months.
They investigated seven incidents of alleged chemical attacks, including an attack on August 21 near Damascus that killed hundreds. They are expected to issue a comprehensive report next month.
A first group of 20 chemical weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (POCW) is due to arrive in Syria on October 1 to start the process of verifying and eliminating Syria's chemical weapons.
On September 27, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that demands the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons and ordered the OPCW to help.
The OPCW is due to meet Syrian officials to begin planning their work. The OPCW hopes to draft a report on Syria's chemical-weapon stockpiles by late October.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed his government will comply with the UN resolution to destroy his regime's chemical weapons.
"We joined the international agreement for preventing the use and the acquirement of chemical weapons before that resolution came to light. The main part of the Russian initiative is based on our will to do so," Assad said in an interview with Italy's RAI News 24 TV and broadcast on September 29.
"So, it's not about the resolution, actually it's about our will. Of course we have the will because in 2003 we had proposed in the United Nations Security Council to get rid of those weapons in the Middle East, to have a chemical-weapon-free zone in the Middle East."
The UN resolution demanding Assad hand over his chemical weapons does not threaten automatic punitive action if his government does not comply.
Syria admitted it had chemical weapons after a poison-gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians.
Washington blamed Assad's forces for the August 21 attack, and threatened military action in retaliation.
Assad and its ally Moscow said the rebels were to blame.
Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted on September 30 as saying that Moscow fears the Syrian opposition will again try to use chemical weapons to provoke a military strike.
Lavrov, in an interview published in the "Kommersant" daily, said Russia had yet to receive evidence to back Washington's claims it was the Syrian government that used chemical weapons in the August 21 attack near Damascus.
Meanwhile, more than 40 rebel brigades around Damascus announced on September 29 they were uniting to form a new group called Jaish al-Islam under the leadership of the head of one of the most powerful factions, Liwa al-Islam.
The announcement came as fighting rages in many parts of Syria, including around the capital, Damascus.
Government warplanes were also reported to have struck at a secondary school in rebel-held Raqqa with at least 12 reported killed, most of them students.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP