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OPCW: Over 92% of Syrian chemical stockpile removed as deadline passes

Published time: April 27, 2014 18:29

A woman affected by what activists say was a gas attack on the town of Telminnes breathes through an oxygen mask at Bab al-Hawa hospital, where she was transferred to, close to the Turkish border April 21, 2014. (Reuters / Amer Alfaj)

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Syria removed over 92 percent of its chemical stockpile, said head of the OPCW-UN task force as the deadline to remove the toxic chemicals from the country torn by civil war passed on Sunday. The complete weapons destruction deadline is set for June 30.

Over 92 percent of Syria's chemical stockpile has been removed from the country, Sigrid Kaag head of the combined Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN task team told a news conference at the Damascus-based Four Seasons Hotel on Sunday.

"(Also) a total of 18 removal operations have been carried out ...and always with due regard for the environment and public safety," she added.

In addition to the removal, Damascus has destroyed buildings, equipment, empty mustard gas containers, and decontaminated other containers at several chemical weapons storage and production sites.

“We are talking basically of the remaining seven and a half, eight percent of chemicals weapons material that currently still in country in one particular site. Six and a half, roughly, needs to be removed, a small percentage is to be destroyed regardless in country that can be done," she said.

The watchdog added that the Syrian government has been very cooperative after joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, however it needs to "acquit itself of its commitments" and ensure the remaining materials are eradicated by the end of the month.

“It's important that the last push is made toward full completion,'' Kaag said.

Damascus pledged to remove all chemicals by April 13, except for those in areas “that are presently inaccessible,” by an April-27 deadline, according to the OPCW. So far the deadlines have not been met, because of the unstable situation inside the country.

Sigrid Kaag speaks during a news conference in Damascus April 27, 2014. (Reuters / Khaled al-Hariri)

Kaag said on Sunday that the joint OPCW-UN mission has been receiving information from Damascus about attacks on convoys transferring weapons, Syrian SANA news agency reported.

“Syria is a country at war. The security situation is volatile, precarious and it shifts all the time,” Kagg told RT adding that security remains always a challenge and the situation should be addressed “to avoid the risk of any of the chemical weapons materials falling in the wrong hands”.

Kaag said the mission has not yet been given access to 12 chemical weapons production facilities. These facilities are under review by the OPCW Executive Council regarding the modalities for their destruction.

In March Russia urged the provision of security of chemical weapons transportation pointing to the March 9 attack on the port at Latakia. The chemicals are being transported there and loaded onto Norwegian and Danish ships for transport to the Italian port Gioia Tauro. There the weapons will be transferred to a ship and turned into low-toxicity effluent.

“Three rockets were fired towards the ships [transporting the weapons]” in a “purposeful act of sabotage” that constitutes a “flagrant violation” of UN regulations, said a statement from the Russian foreign ministry.

In February, Damascus said there were two attempted attacks on convoys with chemical weapons. The OPCW inspectors have also been fired upon by snipers in autumn of 2013. Mortar bombs landed near their hotel in Damascus, however it was not clear whether they had been targeted.

Moscow stressed the Syrian government cannot take all responsibility for chemical weapons removal.

Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons through a US-Russia brokered deal in September. The decision was sparked by a deadly sarin gas attack in August 21 near Damascus that killed hundreds of people. The West blamed President Bashar Assad forces for it, while Damascus accused the rebels.

Syria has declared around 700 tons of the most-dangerous chemicals, 500 tons of less-dangerous precursor chemicals and 122 tons of isopropanol used in sarin gas production. The deadline for the mission’s completion is June 30. Kaag told reporters in Damascus on Sunday that the UN hoped Syria would meet it.

An armed rebel fighter positions himself behind sandbags in Mork town, northern Hama countryside April 26, 2014. (Reuters / Badi Khlif)

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