Syria hands over last of chemical weapons
June 28 Independent News
Syria finished handing over 1,300 tons of chemical weapons it
acknowledged possessing to Western powers on Monday, completing a deal
reached last autumn under threat of US airstrikes.
The most dangerous material will be transferred to an American ship,
which will move into international waters and use specialized equipment
to destroy the chemicals over the next two months. Other material will
be disposed of at toxic waste sites in various countries.
Questions persist over whether Syrian President Bashar Assad is
hiding undeclared poison gases or attacking rebels with chlorine a toxic
industrial gas that is not specifically classified as a chemical weapon.
But politicians and activists hailed Monday's milestone as a victory
for international diplomacy, and, at the least, a clear reduction in the
amount of chemicals available for use in Syria's bloody civil war.The
news came amid extremely high tension across the Middle East, as Israel
carried out retaliatory strikes on Syria and a Syrian cabinet member
warned that Sunni insurgents in Iraq have been funneling weapons to
rebels in Syria.
The material handed over by Syria included mustard gas and precursors
to the nerve gas sarin.Syria agreed to surrender its arsenal when the US
threatened missile strikes in retaliation for a chemical attack on a
rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The attack is believed to have killed more than 1,000 people. The
deal was put together by the United States and Russia, which has been
Assad's most powerful international backer during the war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the
watchdog agency overseeing Syria's disarmament, confirmed that the final
100 tons of chemicals had been loaded onto a Danish ship in the Syrian
port of Latakia.
The completion of the task came nearly two months past the 27 April
deadline set by the United Nations. The OPCW said that was because of
security concerns amid the fighting."The last thing you want, of course,
is when you're dealing with chemical weapons elimination, that chemical
weapons material falls into the wrong hands," Sigrid Kaag, head of the
joint UN-OPCW mission in Syria, said at the project's staging ground in
Cyprus.Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, acknowledged that
Syria could still be hiding some of its arsenal."I can't say . that
Syria doesn't have any chemical weapons anymore," Uzumcu said.
But he said that that was true of any country that his organization
works with. And he added that Syria's declared arsenal was close to
estimates made by outside experts.He described the Syrian government's
overall cooperation as "satisfactory."
Kaag said her team's experts "are working closely with the Syrian
Republic to look at any discrepancies or any revisions" in Syria's
declaration that need to be made.Others applauded the move.