by the associated press
Syria welcomed a Russian proposal Monday to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control and then destroy them. The plan did not include a time frame or other specifics.
The announcement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during a visit to Moscow appeared to be an attempt by President Bashar Assad's regime to avoid an American missile strike over an alleged toxic gas attack last month that Washington blames on Damascus.
Since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, his regime has a history of striking last-minute deals with the international community — cease-fires, Arab League monitors — and then breaking it commitments.
While the U.S. and its allies take stock of the Assad regime's announcement, here's a look at some of the chemical weapons that experts believe are in the Syrian government's arsenal:
_ NERVE AGENTS
The most toxic of the chemical weapons, nerve agents affect the nervous system and are hazardous in their liquid and gas states. They can be delivered in missiles, bombs, rockets, artillery shells and other large munitions.
The Syrian regime is believed to possess tabun, sarin and VX. Absorbed through the skin or inhaled, these agents can — within seconds or minutes depending on the dose — cause extreme runny nose and salivation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and convulsions. Death is generally caused by paralysis of the respiratory system, which causes the victim to suffocate.
Germany developed the first nerve agents before and during World War II, although the Nazis did not use them during the war. The only time nerve agents are believed to have been used on the battlefield was in the 1980s Iraq-Iran war.
_ MUSTARD GAS
One of the best-known chemical weapons, mustard gas is a blister agent that attacks the eyes and skin, causing severe blisters. If inhaled, it can also damage the lungs and other organs. The gas does not cause immediate symptoms, which means those exposed to it can unknowingly take high dosages. While not usually lethal, exposure to mustard gas is generally debilitating.
Mustard gas was first used by the German army in World War I against British forces. Saddam Hussein was accused of using the gas in Iraq's war with Iran, as well as in his 1987-1988 crackdown on the country's Kurdish minority. The most notorious case was on the village of Halabja, which killed some 5,000 people in what was the deadliest chemical weapons attack ever against civilians.