Assad shifting chemical stocks to Lebanon, Iraq say rebel leaders

Syrian military forces are already moving chemical weapon stockpiles out of the country to evade looming UN inspections, an opposition leader said Saturday.

"We have told our friends that the regime has begun moving a part of its chemical weapons arsenal to Lebanon and Iraq," Gen. Salim Idris, the top commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), told reporters in Istanbul.

"We told them do not be fooled," he said, according to Reuters

The FSA is the largest and most organized of the rebel factions battling to overthrow longtime Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in the country. 

His comments come hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Saturday that a framework has been reached to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.

International inspectors would be on the ground by November and all stockpiles should be removed or destroyed by mid-2014, Kerry said at a joint news conference with Lavrov. 

If Syria does not comply, sanctions or military force could be allowed as the agreement is backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution, The Washington Post reported.

Damascus has publicly stated it will comply with the disarmament deal. 

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of DOD intelligence, said Thursday it could take as long as seven years to fully account for Syria's stockpile if a deal is reached.

"I do not have a [high] level of confidence to get through this first iteration" of getting the weapons accounted for, he said.

"I'm hopeful that there's clear, cool-headed . . . very long-view thinking and decision-making done," on how to secure the Syrian weapon sites, Flynn said. 

That said, "I'm not confident that it's going to happen overnight."

But Idris' claims echo recent reports that Assad's troops are hiding portions of the chemical stockpiles inside the country, along with moving other parts outside the country. 

The FSA leader indicated that his forces would support UN weapon inspectors, once they arrive in the country. 

But rebel forces' cooperation with the inspection teams would be "complicated," since the Russian deal is roiling other factions within the anti-Assad forces. 

"Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people," Idris said.  

"A crime against humanity has been committed and there is not any mention of accountability," he added. 

To that end, Qassim Saadeddine, a member of the FSA military council, on Saturday rejected the Russia plan and refused to provide support for the inspections. 

"Let the [Russia] plan go to hell," he said. "We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria," Saadeddine added. 

Rebel forces had provided protection for UN investigators in August, after Assad's forces allegedly launched a large-scale chemical attack against rebel positions near Damascus. 

In response, the White House ordered U.S. warships stationed in the region into position for targeted strikes against Assad's forces. 

While Saturday's agreement puts those attack plans indefinitely on hold, the Pentagon has extended the deployments of two American warships, the Navy Destroyer USS Burke and aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, in the coastal waters near Syria. 

The extended mission for those two warships is part of the department's efforts to maintain a viable military option for the White House, should Obama order the strikes to begin.