Agency ridding Syria of chemical weapons warns deadline to be missed
The international effort to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons is likely to miss its Dec. 31 deadline for getting the most toxic of the poison gases out of the war-torn country, the mission chief said Monday.
“In view of the circumstances in this country, it will be quite difficult to meet this timeline,” Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told a news conference in Oslo.
Uzumcu, in the Norwegian capital to collect his organization’s Nobel Peace Prize, said that a Feb. 5, 2014, deadline for removing a second tier of chemical arms from Syria would also likely see “a few days’ delay.”
Troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebel forces have been fighting for control of strategic highways connecting Damascus to the coast. Because of the volume of chemical arms and substances to be removed, the evacuation must be in overland convoys to the port of Latakia for at-sea destruction.
The Damascus government announced on television Monday that its monthlong offensive to recapture the route through the mountainous Qalamoun area had succeeded in ousting “terrorists,” the term it uses to describe the rebels. However, the British-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warned that the road to the port of Latakia remained vulnerable to rebel attack.
In spite of the anticipated setbacks in the scheduled removal of the chemical weapons, Uzumcu said his organization expected to have all of the toxic gases and nerve agents out of Syria by the mission’s final deadline of mid-2014.
The Hague-based organization has been tasked with implementing an agreement between Russia and the United States to eliminate Syria’s estimated 1,300 tons of sarin, mustard gas and other lethal substances to prevent further use of the prohibited weapons. United Nations inspectors determined earlier this fall that sarin gas had been used in Aug. 21 attacks on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in which more than 1,000 people were reportedly killed.
Assad agreed to cooperate with the U.S.-Russia plan to destroy his chemical arsenal under threat of airstrikes by the United States and other Western countries to punish what they said was a Syrian government-ordered massacre.
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