All chemicals removed from Syria are being destroyed, watchdog says

Politics -

The UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syria handed over all the chemical weapons it declared, but is investigating claims that Assad's forces are still using them.

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Copyright 2014 Reuters
Copyright 2014 Reuters

The 1,433 tons of toxic chemicals removed from Syria were being destroyed, OPCW said in a July 24 statement. The watchdog said 32% had been destroyed by July 21 in Finland, the UK, the U.S. and at sea. It also said 12 former chemical weapons production facilities in Syria would be sealed off or razed.

The Pentagon said July 7 the U.S. container ship Cape Ray has begun destroying about 660 tons of chemical agents in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. After the chemicals are disabled, which is expected to take about 60 days, the material will be transported to Germany and Finland.

The Cape Ray has been fitted with at least $10 million worth of gear to carry about 560 metric tons of Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons precursors out to sea for processing. Hot water is the main agent used to neutralize the chemicals into a less poisonous mixture. Copyright 2014 Reuters

The Cape Ray has been fitted with at least $10 million worth of gear to carry about 560 metric tons of Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons precursors out to sea for processing. Hot water is the main agent used to neutralize the chemicals into a less poisonous mixture.

"All declared chemical weapons have left Syria." Ahmet Uzumcu, director general OPCW

Uzumcu announced that Syria had successfully handed over its declared chemical weapons at a press conference June 23. He said an OPCW team would visit Damascus to confirm the information, and another team will investigate claims that there are undeclared weapons.

The OPCW is investigating claims that Syrian forces have used chlorine gas in attacks since April, 2014. France said on June 5 that 14 chlorine samples it collected may be inconclusive and need to be checked against other information. Investigators will study communications between Syrian officials, pieces of debris from possible launch sites, and medical records.

The process of handing over the weapons has been met with several delays, mostly as a result of the ongoing conflict in Syria. The OPCW said that destruction of the chemical agents could still take 3-4 months.

A UN report released in Sept. 2013 said there was "clear and convincing evidence" that rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Aug. 21, 2013, attack near Damascus, which killed hundreds. Inspectors were ordered to report on whether weapons were used, not on who used them.

On Aug. 26 the UN inspection team was able to reach victims of the apparent chemical weapons attack near Damascus and take samples, despite coming under fire from "unidentified snipers." One vehicle was incapacitated by the fire, forcing some inspectors to turn back, but there were no injuries reported.

A UN report published Dec. 12 said that in addition to the Aug. 21 sarin attack in Damascus, sarin was also likely used in attacks in Khan al Assal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya between March and August. The report did not place blame on either the government or opposition forces.

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