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Hunt on despite Christmas

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NADIM LADKI   |   Published 26.12.02, 12:00 AM

Baghdad, Dec. 25 (Reuters): UN weapons experts visited seven suspect sites in Iraq today, taking no break for Christmas, as President Saddam Hussein warned Iraqis the drums of war were beating louder.

“They are in Baghdad to work and they will work their butts off as long as they are there,” Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Christmas Eve. “We will continue work throughout the holiday,” he said.

Teams from the IAEA and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) visited seven sites in central and southern Iraq on Christmas Day, a UN spokesman in Baghdad said.

The IAEA inspected the large Hatteen Fateh Explosives Factory which produces explosives for bombs, shells and rockets and the Umm al-Maarik Factory, which produces military parts.

An IAEA team joined with Iraqi auditors at the Qa Qaa explosives plant where they made item counts of important dual- use materials and compared results, the spokesman said.

An UNMOVIC biological team inspected a liquid propane gas filling company in Taji area just north of Baghdad. Missile teams inventoried storage buildings at two military plants 30 km north of Baghdad.

Around two dozen experts who spent the night in the southern port city of Basra also inspected a paper plant.

The inspectors returned to Iraq last month after a four-year hiatus to resume a hunt for banned weapons of mass destruction, amid threats of war by the US if Iraq fails to disarm under the terms of a UN resolution.

Syria today brushed aside Israeli accusations that it was hiding Iraq’s biological and chemical weapons. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel suspected Baghdad was transferring arms to Syria to hide them from the inspectors.

“Sharon’s allegations that Iraq has transported to Syria chemical and biological weapons are baseless and aim to avert attention from the nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal that Israel owns,” the Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement.

In a Christmas message, Saddam said the festive season was marked by circumstances “created by the powers of evil and darkness to spread chaos” in parts of the world.

To achieve the goal of controlling the wealth of countries, he said the “forces of evil” resorted to “lies and deception, fabrication and false accusation”.

“It is in this context that the American-Zionist campaign against Iraq is being launched while the tone of a threatened, large-scale military aggression against our peace-loving people is growing louder,” he said.

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