First batch of chemical weapons materials shipped out of Syria

'Priority chemical materials' loaded on to Danish vessel headed for international waters

Syria has started moving chemical weapons materials out of the country in a crucial phase of an internationally backed disarmament programme that has been delayed by war and technical problems.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said yesterday that “priority chemical materials” were transported to the port of Latakia and on to a Danish vessel which was now sailing towards international waters.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed with the United States after a 21 August sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Damascus blames rebels for the attack.

War, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues meant a 31 December deadline for the removal of the most deadly toxins from Syria was missed.

The OPCW did not disclose what percentage of Syria's toxic arsenal - which totals 1,300 tonnes in all - had been removed but said nine containers of the most dangerous chemical materials were on the Danish cargo vessel.

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

Maritime security was being provided by Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian ships.

Government forces have taken back control of the highway linking Damascus to the coast which is needed to transport the toxins. Rebel were ousted from three towns along the road but activists say convoys moving along it will remain vulnerable to rebel ambushes.

Washington welcomed the removal of chemical materials and said Assad's government appeared to be sticking to the deal.

“Much more needs to be done,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing, adding: “We have no reason to believe that the regime has gone back on any aspect of their promise.”

On the battlefield, Syria's bloodiest bout of rebel infighting since the war started nearly three years ago prompted the head of an al-Qa'ida-linked rebel group to called for a ceasefire between opposition factions.

An audio recording from the leader of the powerful Nusra Front, known as Abu Mohammed al-Golani, laid much of the blame for the fighting on an al Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

While both groups have roots in the global Islamist network and welcome foreign militants, the Nusra Front has cooperated more with other rebel groups and has largely avoided the power struggles that ISIL has faced since wresting control of many opposition-held areas from other groups.

“Many rebel units have committed transgressions, just as the mistaken policies followed by played a prominent role in fuelling the conflict,” Golani said.

ISIL has also been fighting in Iraq, where it faces an onslaught by army tanks and artillery around the city of Falluja, whose local leaders have urged the Qa'ida-linked militants to leave before being attacked.

ISIL gunmen want to reconquer Iraq's Anbar province in pursuit of their goal of creating a radical Islamic state out of the chaos of neighbouring Syria's civil war.

More than 274 people have been killed in the rebel-on-rebel clashes in Syria since they began on Friday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group.

Golani proposed forming an Islamic legal council to resolve feuds among the rebels and called for the militants to return to their shared goal of fighting Assad's forces, as the campaign to oust the Syrian leader nears the end of its third year.

It was not possible to verify the audio statement, but it was posted on a Twitter account used by the Nusra Front.

“This unfortunate situation has pushed us to launch an initiative to save the battlefields from being lost. This will be done by forming an independent legal council by all the (rebel) factions in addition to a ceasefire,” Golani said.

Rebel groups, many of them also hardline Islamists, last week launched what appeared to be a series of coordinated strikes against ISIL in northern and eastern Syria after months of increasing tensions with the group, which has alienated many Syrians in rebel-held regions.

In one northwestern region of Syria alone, other rebel groups appear to have killed 34 foreign fighters from ISIL, the Observatory said.

Fighting reignited between ISIL and other groups on Tuesday, the Observatory said. Fifteen died in the town of Rastan, north of the central city of Homs, and in Aleppo rebels took control of a police station where about 100 ISIL fighters had been based. The ISIL fighters surrendered themselves and their weapons to the Nusra Front, it said.

Golani urged rebels not to become divided between foreign and local fighters, arguing that all were needed to launch jihad, or holy war, in the country.

The campaign to topple Assad has degenerated into a civil war with several sectarian and ethnic struggles emerging, as well as the internecine fighting now plaguing the rebels.

Golani urged rebels to exchange prisoners and open roads to all opposition units.

Syria's Western-backed opposition in exile postponed until next week a decision on whether to attend talks with Assad's government aimed at ending the conflict, opposition members said on Tuesday.

The National Coalition is facing heavy pressure from Western powers to attend the Jan. 22 talks in Switzerland, seen as the most serious effort yet to find a political solution to the civil war.

It has said it is ready to attend the talks in principle, but says they must lead to Assad's departure - a demand which Damascus has flatly rejected - and has repeatedly stalled on its final decision.

The latest delay came after at least a quarter of the coalition called for its newly re-elected president Ahmad al-Jarba to stand down at a meeting in Turkey and threatened to resign if their demand was not met, sources at the meeting said.

Reuters

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game