BEIRUT, Lebanon — Deadly clashes raged on the edge of Damascus on Wednesday and rival rebel factions battled each other in northern Syria as international chemical weapons inspectors began to secure the sites where they will work.
The fighting underscored the immense security challenge that the dozens of disarmament experts must negotiate as they work amid the civil war to meet tight deadlines for eliminating President Bashar Assad's estimated 1,000-ton arsenal of chemical weapons.
The inspectors' mission, endorsed by a U.N. Security Council resolution passed last week, is to scrap Syria's capacity to manufacture chemical weapons by Nov. 1 and destroy the country's entire stockpile by the middle of 2014.
One of the challenges the inspectors face is navigating the war itself.
On the northern edge of Damascus, fierce clashes between Syrian troops and al-Qaida-linked fighters killed at least 19 soldiers and pro-government militiamen in the past three days, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The rebels, mostly from the ranks of al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, also sustained losses but did not disclose them, the Observatory said. It also noted clashes in Jobar on the capital's eastern edge.
In northern Syria, the Observatory reported clashes between al-Qaida rebels and more moderate groups in the town of Azaz on the Turkish border.