First shipment of Syria chemical arms removed

The material was moved from two sites and was then loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel

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The Syrian regime has moved the first shipment of chemical material out of the country after transporting it from two sites to the port city of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel, the joint mission overseeing the disarmament said Tuesday.

“A first quantity of priority chemical materials was moved from two sites to the port of Latakia for verification and was then loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel today,” the mission said in a statement, adding that the boat had sailed for international waters.

“The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway, as well as the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement. “It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.”

The head of the disarmament mission, Sigrid Kaag, was on Wednesday to brief the United Nations Security Council on the latest progress in the operation.

The removal had been scheduled to take place before Dec. 31, but Syria’s worsening civil war, logistical problems and bad weather had delayed the operation.

The year-end deadline for the removal of key weapons components was the first major milestone under a U.N. Security Council-backed deal arranged by Russia and the United States that aims to eliminate all of Syria’s chemical arms by the middle of this year.

Under the plan, the chemicals will be taken from Latakia to a port in Italy where they will be transferred to a U.S. Navy vessel fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.

The OPCW has turned to the U.S. military for assistance after no country volunteered to destroy the chemical weapons on its soil, despite an international consensus that the weapons be neutralized outside Syria.

The U.S.-Russia deal was aimed at heading off U.S. military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after hundreds of people were killed last August in a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.

[With AFP and Reuters]

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