A first batch of chemicals from Syria’s weapons program has been shipped out of the war-torn country. Syria’s government agreed to surrender its chemical weapons in a deal last year to avoid a US bombing campaign.
The United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced on Tuesday that a small quantity of chemical material that could be used in the production of weapons had left Syria.
"A first quantity of priority chemical materials was moved from two sites to the port of Latakia for verification and was then loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel today," said a statement released by the Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch diplomat who heads the joint UN-OPCW mission charged with supervising the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.
"It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port," the statement added.
The commercial ship was being accompanied by vessels from the Danish, Chinese, Russian and Norwegian navies.
OPCW Director-General Mehmet Uzumcu described the move as "an important step" in the planned disposal of Syria's weapons.
"I encourage the Syrian government to maintain the momentum to remove the remaining priority chemicals, in a safe and timely manner, so that they can be destroyed outside of Syria as quickly as possible," he added.
The first shipment of Syrian chemicals came more than a week after a December 31 deadline for the process to begin. The deadline was missed due to a number of factors, including security concerns and bad weather.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad agreed to hand over his chemical weapons arsenal as part of a US-Russian deal, after the Americans threatened military action following an August chemical attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people. Washington blamed Assad's regime for the attack.
The chemical material that left Latakia on Tuesday is to eventually be transferred to a US ship, the Cape Ray, where it is to destroyed on board using special machinery designed for such tasks.
The US-Russian deal includes a June deadline to complete the disposal of Syria's chemical weapons program, including sarin and mustard gas.
pfd/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)