Middle East

Third shipment of chemical weapons leaves Syria - UN

Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad in Latakia Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Norway and Denmark are providing transport to take the weapons from the port of Latakia

A third shipment of chemical weapons materials has left Syria, with some destroyed inside the country, the global chemical weapons watchdog says.

The material was shipped on board a Norwegian cargo vessel, accompanied by a fleet from China, Denmark, Norway and Russia, the joint UN-OPCW mission said.

Syria has recently missed several deadlines in an internationally-agreed destruction timetable.

But the government insists it will meet the final deadline at the end of June.

Under a UN resolution backed by Russia and the US, Syria is to surrender all of its 1,300 tonnes of declared chemical weapons for destruction by mid-2014.

But the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the destruction operation with the UN, has admitted the process has been slowed down by security concerns.

The announcement came as a second round of peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition negotiators opened in Geneva.

Call for expedition

In its latest statement, the joint mission said it "welcomed the progress to date," but did not detail how much material had been shipped out or destroyed.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Syrian government says shipments from Latakia have been delayed by security and logistical issues

However, it encouraged the Syrian authorities "to expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials".

Last week, Syria failed to meet a deadline to ship "priority two" material out of the country, which the government said was caused by attacks on shipments of weapons en route from Damascus to the port of Latakia.

US officials have voiced concerns that the UN-backed plan is falling behind schedule. But Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad told the BBC last week that "Syria is doing its best" to comply with the timetable.

So far, only around 30 of 1,300 tonnes have been removed - 4% of "priority one" chemicals and roughly the same percentage of "priority two".

The removal of priority one chemicals was due for completion by 31 December, while the deadline for priority two was 5 February.

Russia - a key ally of Syria - has said Damascus should complete the transfer of its chemical weapons to the coast for removal by ship by 1 March.

The deal to eradicate Syria's chemical weapons came about after a chemical weapons attack in August in the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians.

The US and Syrian opposition blamed the government for the attack. It denied responsibility.

How the plan will unfold

  • 1. The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from 12 sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
  • 2. Russia is providing security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment. China has sent 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras, and Finland an emergency response team in case of accidents.
  • 3. Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take the chemicals to the container port of Gioia Tauro in Italy. Russia and China are also providing naval escorts and the first consignment of 16 tonnes left Latakia on 7 January.
  • 4. In Italy, the "most critical" chemical agents will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Less-toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.