Fighting in Syria poses a major hurdle to the efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical arms. The head of the mission, Sigrid Kaag, is responsible for implementing an agreement between Damascus and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and overseeing the destruction of the deadliest chemicals by the end of the year. Kaag said, “Security remains a key challenge for all. The destruction of a chemical weapons program has never taken place under such challenging and dangerous conditions.”
Under an agreement that averted U.S. missile strikes on Syria, the OPCW has been charged with supervising the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal. Syria will relinquish control of all of its chemical weapons under the deal, worked out between the United States and Russia. Its entire stockpile of 1,300 tons of sarin, mustard gas and other lethal agents will be destroyed. However, Kaag said she had been unable to use a road along which toxic munitions must be hauled to a Syrian port for shipping abroad.
Several weeks ago, the battle for control of the highway north of Damascus intensified when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took the town of Qara, located right next to the road. The rebels retaliated by attacking the town of Deir Attiyah and then turning their attention to Nabak, another town few kilometers to the south on the road. The Syrian army has since recaptured Deir Attiyah.
Assad’s forces are backed by air power by day so they have the advantage over the rebels during daylight hours. The rebels regroup in nearby hillsides and prevent the army from controlling the road. People have fled the fighting by the thousands.
During a recent trip to the region, the road between the city of Homs and the capital Damascus had been closed. As an alternative, Kaag had to travel by helicopter to the northern port of Latakia, the destination where Syria will export hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals to the destruction facility floating offshore. Kaag said, “The situation remains complex and the security situation volatile … but we intend to forge ahead.”