In a major breakthrough, the United Nations Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously on a resolution to destroy Syria's chemicals weapons stockpile and warned of strong action in case of non-compliance by Damascus.
Ending a dramatic month of diplomacy, the 15-nation UNSC voted unanimously on the resolution which was based on a deal struck between Russia and the United States, following a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds on August 21.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the passing of the resolution the "first hopeful news" on Syria in a long time and said he hopes to convene a peace conference in mid-November to end the ongoing civil war in the Arab country.
"It is time for the parties to focus on how to build the peaceful, democratic future Syria needs. All those with influence on the parties must use that influence," he said.
In the wake of the chemical attack in Syria, which was confirmed a UN investigation team later, the UNSC called for the elimination of the country's chemical weapons, while endorsing a plan for Syrian-led negotiations toward peace.
The UNSC called for the speedy implementation of procedures drawn up by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons "for the expeditious destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic's chemical weapons programme and stringent verification thereof."
In the text, the Council underscored "that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons."
Defiance of the resolution, including unauthorised transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, would bring about measures under the UN Charter’s binding Chapter VII, which can include sanctions or stronger coercive action, the Council said.
"Today's historic resolution is the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time," Ban told the Council following the adoption. "For many months, I have said that the confirmed use
of chemical weapons in Syria would require a firm, united response. Tonight, the international community has delivered."
"As we mark this important step, we must never forget that the catalogue of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks, grenades and guns," Ban added.
"A red light for one form of weapons does not mean a green light for others. This is not a license to kill with conventional weapons. All the violence must end. All the guns must fall silent."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said through the "strong, enforceable, precedent-setting resolution" that requires Syria to give up its chemical weapons, the UNSC has demonstrated that "diplomacy can be so powerful, it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons" of war.
"So tonight, we are declaring together, for the first time, that the use of chemical weapons, which the world long ago determined beyond the bounds of acceptable human behavior, are also a threat to international peace and security anywhere they might be used, anytime they might be used, under any circumstances," Kerry said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, said the UNSC would be prepared to take punitive steps in the event of confirmed violations of the resolution by either side -- President Bashar Al-Assad regime or the rebels.
"The United Nations Security Council will stand ready to take action under Chapter 7 of the (UN) charter," he said.
Meanwhile, the UN team led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom resumed its fact-finding activities related to all pending credible allegations of chemical weapons use, following its return to Syria this week.
"Our aim was also to hold the Assad regime publicly accountable for its horrific use of chemical weapons against its own people on August 21. And this resolution makes clear
that those responsible for this heinous act must be held accountable," Kerry added.
He said for the first time since Syria's civil war began, the Security Council is spelling out in detail what Syria must do to comply with its legal obligations.
"We also wanted a resolution that would be enforced. And again, that is what the Security Council has adopted. We are here because actions have consequences. And now, should the regime fail to act, there will be consequences. Progress will be reported back to the Security Council frequently, and in the event of noncompliance, the Council will impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter," Kerry said.
The UNSC also endorsed a plan for a Syrian-led process, with participation of all parties, to end the conflict, which has claimed over 100,000 lives since it began in March 2011 and has led to over 2 million people fleeing the country, with some 4 million internally displaced.
It also called for convening an international peace conference that is fully representative of the Syrian people.
The council said it would work with the OPCW in deploying a chemical weapons "monitoring and destruction team" -- expecting the full cooperation of the Syrian government -- and it appealed to UN member states for support, including personnel, expertise, funding and equipment.
Image: A guitar lies next to a weapon on a table while Free Syrian Army fighters rest in Ashrafieh, Aleppo ' Photograph: Muzaffar Salman/Reuters