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Syria hands over last of declared chemical weapons

Published: Updated:

Syria has handed over the last of acknowledged stockpile of chemical weapons, said the international team of weapons experts tasked with overseeing the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons on Monday.

“The Joint Mission welcomes the removal of the remaining 7.2 per cent of chemical weapons material from the Syrian Arab Republic. With this last movement, the total of declared chemical weapons materials destroyed or removed from Syria has reached 100%,” the mission said in a statement obtained by Al Arabiya.

“In addition to the completion of the removal operation, the Syrian Arab Republic has destroyed all declared production, mixing and filling equipment and munitions, as well as many buildings associated with its declared chemical weapons program,” the statement added.

Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told Al Arabiya bureau chief in New York Talal al-Haj: “I think we've accomplished a very important part of the mission.”

She said 100 percent of declared chemical weapons was either removed or destroyed.

“That is a major milestone. The job is not yet done and as you also see from the forthcoming letter by the secretary general there are areas of work ongoing on the assessment of Syria's initial declaration as well as work in preparation of a decision by OPCW on the methodology of destruction, she added."

Play the above video to watch the full interview with Sigrid Kaag

“But we have achieved major milestone under unprecedented conditions and very tight timeframes despite deadlines that had been missed,” Kaag added.

The final 7.2 percent of the 1,300-ton stockpile, which included mustard gas and raw materials for making sarin nerve gas, have been loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships in the Syrian port of Latakia, said Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, The Associated Press reported.

The statement by the Joint Mission said that a new “chapter in the elimination process now begins.” The stockpile is expected to be transported to various facilities where it will be destroyed.

Kaag told Al Arabiya's sister channel Al Hadath: “The destruction of the chemical weapons aboard the U.S. vessel Cape Ray is estimated to take approximately 60 days. I am sure there is a variation in implementation, but hat is a rough estimate.”

Speaking at a press conference in The Hague, however, Uzumcu acknowledged that it is still possible Syria has avoided declaring some part of its arsenal, the Associated Press reported.

“I can't say ... that Syria doesn't have any chemical weapons anymore,” he said. However, he added that is true of any country that his organization cooperates with, and Syria's declared arsenal was close to estimates made by external security analysts and experts.

Syria's government agreed to surrender its arsenal last fall when the U.S. threatened punitive missile strikes after a chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus believed to have killed more than a thousand people.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday it had eliminated the chemicals despite difficult security circumstances caused by its ongoing civil war.

It credited the “firm political will of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the initiative of the Russian President Vladimir Putin” to give up the arsenal under the supervision of the U.N. Security Council.

“This significant achievement is further evidence that Syria adheres to its international commitments,” the Syrian statement said.