An activist group says rebel infighting in northern Syria has killed nearly 500 people over the past week.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 482 people have been killed in the fighting that has pitted a loose alliance of ultraconservative rebel brigades and more moderate factions against the fighters of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Observatory said the toll includes 240 rebels, 157 fighters from the “Islamic State” and 85 civilians.

The fighting has spread across four provinces in opposition-held parts of northern Syria since it began last Friday.

The al-Qaeda-linked group has alienated other factions over the past several months by using brutal tactics to implement its strict interpretation of Islamic law, and by kidnapping and killing of opponents.

PTI adds from Berlin:

Germany joins efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical arms

Germany has agreed to join global efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles by disposing residues of the most toxic materials.

The German government “has the will and it is in a position to dispose in this country the residues from the irreversible neutralisation of chemical weapons from Syria, which are similar to industrial wastes,” the foreign ministry said in a press statement on Thursday.

Germany is prepared to make a “substantial contribution” towards destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, the statement said.

The German government’s decision to dispose the residues was taken in response to an appeal for support from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), it said.

Germany’s new Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said contrary to the expectations of many people, Syria’s chemical weapons have been identified, secured and removed, and it is now the international community’s responsibility to make sure that they are properly disposed.

“Any one who can make a contribution to destroy the chemical weapons should not hesitate to do so,” he said in a TV interview.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Germany has the technical expertise and long experience to fully dispose the residues of chemical weapons.

It is prepared to put this capability at the disposal of the international community and thereby make an important contribution towards solving the Syrian conflict, she said.

The residues of the most deadly chemical weapons and the raw materials for making them will be destroyed at an ammunition waste disposal plant of the German armed forces in Muenster, in the State of Lower Saxony.

Several hundred tonnes of residues from the hydrolysis of toxic chemicals will be packed in containers and shipped to a German port. From there, they will be transported by truck or by train to the incineration plant in Muenster. All chemical substances will be completely destroyed during the incineration and only some salts will remain as residue, media reports said.

The OPCW estimates that in total, around 1,300 tonnes of chemicals will have to be destroyed. In the first phase of the operation, the most toxic chemicals will be neutralised on board the U.S. ship MV Cape Ray, according to a plan worked out by the Nobel Prize-winning organisation.

The first shipment of chemicals left the Syrian port of Latakia on Wednesday on board a Danish cargo vessel and is on its way to the U.S. ship, the reports said.

The OPCW wants the entire operation to be completed by the end of May.

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