A source at the world's chemical weapons watchdog says Syria has completed the destruction of all production facilities for chemical agents. The development is seen as the first step on a long road to eradication.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced in a statement on Thursday that all of the production facilities for chemical weapons had been destroyed.
"Syria has completed rendering inoperable its chemical weapons production and assembly installations," the OPCW announced in a statement.
The organization announced that its teams had looked at 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The remaining two had been too dangerous to inspect, but the OPCW reported that chemical equipment had already been moved from there to other sites.
"Syria declared those sites as abandoned and that the chemical weapons program items they contained were moved to other declared sites, which were inspected," the OPCW said.
"The Joint Mission is now satisfied that it has verified - and seen destroyed - all of Syria's declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment," the OPCW announced.
'Fortitude and courage'
Director general of the OPCW Ahmet Uzumcu released comments on Thursday thanking members of the inspection team as eight of them returned to the organization's headquarters in The Hague.
"On behalf of the OPCW, I thank you and all of our colleagues from the Joint OPCW-UN Mission who remain in Syria for your outstanding service," Uzumcu said.
"I salute the fortitude and courage you've all demonstrated in fulfilling the most challenging mission ever undertaken by this organization."
The destruction of production facilities is a milestone in the timeline that provides for all of Damascus' chemical weapons to be destroyed by mid-2014. The Syrian government agreed to give up all its chemical weapons in September in response to a US threat of military action. A deal with Damascus was brokered by Moscow and Washington.
The warning came after an attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21 in which hundreds died, including many children.
Tons of agents
Inspectors had until Friday to visit all of Syria's chemical weapons sites to destroy all production and filling equipment.
The next deadline is November 15, by which time the OPCW and Syria must have agreed a detailed plan for the destruction of more than 1,000 metric tons of toxic agents and munitions.
Chemical weapons thought to be present include sulfur mustard, sarin and VX - the most toxic known of such agents. The chemicals would be destroyed by incineration or neutralization through the adding of water or other products.
The statement came as UN and Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared to meet the so-called "loyal opposition": dissidents tolerated by the regime.
Brahimi is currently in the Middle East in an effort to garner support for proposed peace talks, dubbed Geneva II.
rc/mkg (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)