Watchdog Urges Quicker Handover of Chemical Weapons

The watchdog for the chemical weapons of the world, which is overseeing destruction of the toxic arsenal in Syria, called on President Basher al-Assad’s government to increase its rate of handing over the chemical weapons that remain in their possession.

The deadline was missed by Syria to transport the country’s most toxic substances on or before December 31, loading the first set of chemical weapons on a cargo vessel flying a Danish flag on Tuesday, a full week late.

The al-Assad regime has until March 31 to hand over the first priority chemicals, which include close to 20 tonnes (1 tonne/1.102 metric tons) of the lethal mustard gas. The next deadline is June 30, which would eliminate its program of chemical weapons in its entirety.

However, on Wednesday, Michael Luhan, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ spokesperson said the group is exhorting the government of Syria to increase its efforts in order to conclude the critical part of the process as quickly as possible as conditions will allow.

Luhan said the group is pleased to finally see movement and hopes that the movement will continue regularly going forward over the next couple of weeks, so the chemical can be taken out of Syria at the absolute quickest rate possible.

Syria originally declared it had chemical weapons of 1,300 tonnes to OPCW, which won last year’s Nobel Peace prize and is transporting the chemical via road to Latakia a port city where they will then be taken by cargo vessels to be destroyed.

Chemical weapons likely had been used in 5 of the 7 attacks U.N. experts investigated in Syria, where a civil war has been waged for close to three years and has cost the lives of over 100,000 people and while displacing millions.

Of the five attacks, the most serious took place August 21 and killed hundreds of people with Sarin gas in the suburbs of Damascus.

That is the attack that prompted U.S. officials to threaten military force against the regime in Syria, which it said was the likely culprit.

The majority of the chemical weapons will be processed aboard the U.S. cargo vessel Cape Ray, which has been fitted with a hydrolysis system that neutralizes the deadly toxins.

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