Syria conflict: Regime to get rid of chemical weapons ‘within days’

beirut

Syria has nearly completed the removal and destruction of its chemical weapons, with 92.5 per cent of its stock now removed or destroyed.

Sigrid Kaag, the head of the joint mission between the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations, told the Security Council she expected Syria to meet the 27 April deadline for removing all prohibited chemicals.

“Last stretch towards completion… Syria strongly encouraged to make it happen,” she tweeted from Latakia.

This would allow a 30 June deadline to be reached to destroy 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons, despite missing every previous deadline. The OPCW estimates that Cape Ray, the US ship which will destroy 560 tonnes of chemicals, will need 60 days to complete the process. Syria is looking to close down the mission as soon as possible.

“Once this mission is finished, you will hear about a final report submitted by Ms Kaag to the council and to the executive board of the OPCW and that will be the end of everything,” Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said.

But Britain claims there is still work to be done.

“Our view is that there is a continuing role for the joint mission well beyond the removal of the chemicals, which could happen quite quickly now. There’s a number of tasks that are still to be carried out, including verification of the destruction of production facilities,” said Mark Lyall Grant, Britain’s ambassador to the UN.

Syria has seven hardened aircraft hangars and five underground facilities, the majority of which now have been destroyed. Those still remaining are just structures and contain “junk”, according to OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan. The Chemical Weapons Convention demands that the structures are also destroyed completely. Member states have been given a plan devised by OPCW experts and the Syrians for the sites’ complete destruction.

As for two sites the mission has been unable to access, the mission has “closed the book”, says Mr Luhan.

The Syrian government provided video of their contents being moved to other sites. “They have compensated for the lack of access and those materials were subsequently accounted for,” he said.

As late as September 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied having chemical weapons. International pressure increased following the worst chemical weapons attack in a quarter of a century in August 2013, in a Damascus suburb. The US threatened air strikes as Syria crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons. A surprise decision by the Obama administration to request approval from Congress for military action removed that threat, but international pressure forced Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The 30 June deadline was ambitious, with a new mission operating in a war zone. As deadlines flew by without result, the regime was accused of stalling. The Syrians cited security concerns and requested material to ensure safe transport. The UK and US baulked at providing equipment such as armoured cars, out of fear they would be used in Syria’s civil war. In the end, China and Russia stepped forward, the latter supplying 25 armoured trucks.

The mission has proven to be truly international. In addition to the Cape Ray, material is being destroyed at commercial destruction facilities in Britain and Germany.

Transport has involved ships from the US, Norway and Denmark and Italy.

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