Russian lorries to transport Syria chemical weapons

Norwegian marines patrol waters around HNOMS Helge in Cyprus on 14 December 2013 Norway's frigate is waiting in Cyprus for the go ahead to pick up the chemical weapons from Syria's Latakia port

Syria's chemical weapons will be taken out of the country by Russian armoured lorries before being destroyed at sea, the international watchdog says.

They will be transported from 12 sites around Syria to the port of Latakia for loading onto Danish and Norwegian ships, the OPCW has outlined.

Shipped to an Italian port, they will then be loaded on to a specially modified US Navy ship to be destroyed.

The OPCW said it was "making progress against heavy odds".

Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said the original deadline of 31 December to rid Syria of its most dangerous chemicals had been disrupted by a "combination of security concerns, clearance procedures in international transit and even inclement weather".

Heavy fighting on the main road between Damascus and Homs posed "risks to the timely execution of the operation", he also warned.

But he confirmed at a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' Executive Council that "the major elements of a transportation and destruction plan are in place".

Syria's chemical weapons

  • Syria believed to possess more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and pre-cursor chemicals, including blister agent, sulphur mustard, and sarin nerve agent; also thought to have produced most potent nerve agent, VX
  • US believes Syria's arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria acceded to Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified
International outrage

The plan, seen by the BBC, says US satellite equipment and Chinese surveillance cameras will track the progress of Russian armoured lorries as they carry the dangerous weapons to Latakia.

Danish and Norwegian frigates, currently positioned in Cyprus, will take the chemicals from Latakia to an unnamed port in Italy.

Then the containers - carrying mustard gas and sarin among other chemicals - will be loaded onto the unnamed US Navy ship and taken out into international waters before being destroyed in a specially created titanium tank on board.

The OPCW has set a deadline of 31 March 2014 to destroy Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons, and all of its chemical by 30 June 2014.

A confirmed sarin attack in Damascus on 21 August, which killed hundreds, provoked international outrage and led to a US-Russia deal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.

UN inspectors said in a report earlier this month that they believed chemical weapons were "probably used" at five sites in Syria.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting that has ravaged Syria for two-and-a-half years, according to the UN.

A further two million people have fled Syria and some 6.5 million have been displaced internally.

Graphic. Background image shows stockpiles of chemical weapons in the US (2001)

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