Syria hands over remaining chemical stockpile, West sceptical

THE HAGUE: Syria on Monday handed over the remaining 100 tonnes of toxic material it had reported to the global chemical weapons watchdog, but Western governments said it was too early to declare the country free of weapons of mass destruction.
The delayed final consignment, roughly 8 percent of a total 1,300 tonnes Syria declared to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), had been held at a storage site which the government of President Bashar al-Assad said it had been unable to access due to fighting with rebels.
    The security situation in the area has now improved and the containers of chemicals were taken by truck to the Syrian port of Latakia and loaded onto a ship to be destroyed at sea on a specially equipped US. vessel, said OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu.
    “A major landmark in this mission has been reached today. The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura,” Uzumcu told a news conference in The Hague.
Syria agreed last September to destroy its entire chemical weapons programme under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The agreement averted US. military strikes in response to the worst chemical weapons attack in decades, which Washington and its European allies blamed on Assad’s regime. Assad blamed rebels battling to oust him for the chemical attack.  Western governments reacted cautiously to Monday’s announcement and said they remained concerned about Syria’s chemical weapons capability, partly because of use of chlorine-like chemicals on the battlefield. “There are still some serious issues that need to be addressed and we are not going to stop until those have been addressed,” US. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Baghdad. “We remain deeply concerned about reports of systematic use of chlorine gas in opposition areas.”
Echoing that scepticism, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “The regime’s history of lies and obstruction make it impossible to take its claims at face value, and we support the OPCW in its efforts to press Syria for full disclosure.”
Uzumcu confirmed that an investigation into the alleged use of chlorine in Syria’s civil war and a review of the list of chemicals Syria has admitted possessing would continue.“All declared chemical weapons have left Syria (but) clearly we cannot say as the secretariat of the OPCW that Syria doesn’t possess any chemical weapons any more,” Uzumcu said.   “We hope to conclude soon the clarification of certain aspects of the Syrian declaration and commence the destruction of certain structures that were used as chemical weapons production facilities,” Uzumcu added. 

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