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OPCW warns that Syria must speed up handover of chemical weapons

The international chemical weapons watchdog has said that Syria must speed up its efforts to remove its arsenal in time to meet a deadline to complete the process. A deal reached last year headed off possible US strikes.

A statement released by the

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

said on Monday that a 13th consignment of chemicals had been shipped out of Syria's port of Latakia earlier in the day, meaning that around two thirds of its chemical weapons had now been removed.

"The deliveries have raised the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 65.1 percent, including 57.4 percent of priority chemicals," said the OPCW, which is based in The Hague.

Syria had temporarily suspended the transfer of its chemical weapons due to what it said were security concerns, but restarted the operation a few days ago.

The OPCW's director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, welcomed the news of the latest shipment, describing this as "necessary and encouraging." At the same time though, he warned that "the frequency and volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly" if Syria is to have all of its declared chemical weapons handed over by a

June 30 deadline agreed as part of a US-Russia deal.

The agreement came in response to international outrage over deadly chemical attacks near Damascas last August, which the West blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In return for Syria agreeing to the

destruction of its chemical arsenal

, the US pledged to refrain from launching air strikes on Assad's forces.

In New York, meanwhile, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric acknowledged that Syria had missed a Sunday deadline to ship out all chemical weapons located in accessible locations in the war-torn country. He said another key deadline wasn't far off.

"Missing the April 27 timeline could have serious impact on the completion of the removal of Syria's chemical weapons by June 30."

Norwegian and Danish vessels are involved in shipping the weapons out of the Latakia port, in the west of the country. The most lethal poison gas and nerve agents are taken to a US Navy ship which has the special equipment required to destroy them at sea.

pfd/jr (AP, AFP)

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