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Germany to provide escort ship for Syrian chemical weapons mission

The German government has said it will provide an armed escort ship to take part in an international mission to destroy Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons. The decision must now be approved by parliament.

Up to 300 German soldiers will take part in the deployment to help protect the American vessel, MV Cape Ray (pictured), in the Mediterranean Sea as it carries chemicals including mustard gas and raw materials for making the nerve agent sarin. The chemicals will be processed and broken down at sea using

hydrolysis

, a process which is set to begin around the end of the month.

The German mandate runs until December at the latest and must now be approved by the Bundestag lower house of parliament where the left-right "grand coalition" of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) has an overwhelming majority.

Germany has already agreed to destroy remnants of Syria's chemical weapons within its borders, a process which will be carried out by state-owned company GEKA in the northern town of Munster.

"The sooner the chemical weapons are destroyed and no longer represent a danger for the people in Syria, the better," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a written statement Wednesday.

Syria agreed to give up its stockpiles as part of a Russian and United States brokered deal last year to avert US-backed military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus.

The West blamed the attacks on

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime

. A deadline of June 30 was set for removal, however, the world's chemical weapons watchdog, OPCW, has said the war-torn country

remains behind schedule for the destruction.

hc/se (AP, AFP, dpa)

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