Syria chemical disarmament gathers pace as new claims emerge

DAMASCUS: The chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday that Syria has handed over 86.5 per cent of its arsenal as new claims emerged of an attack on a rebel bastion this month using an industrial chemical.

Under the terms of a US- and Russian-brokered deal which averted the threat of US military action last year, Syria faces a June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical stockpiles.

The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that reportedly killed hundreds. The West blamed President Bashar al-Assad’s regime but the government said rebels were behind it.

The latest reports come as Syria, announced plans to hold a presidential election on June 3, despite the three-year war raging across the country.

The United Nations and the Arab League have warned that the vote, expected to return Assad to power, would be a blow to efforts for a negotiated peace.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said a new consignment of chemicals was delivered Tuesday to the Syrian port of Latakia.

It raised “the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 86.5 percent of the total”, the Hague-based OPCW said in a statement.

The chemicals were immediately removed from the country in the 17th shipment since the operation began in October.

“This latest consignment (is) encouraging,” said OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu.

“We hope that the remaining two or three consignments are delivered quickly to permit destruction operations to get under way in time to meet the mid-year deadline for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons.”

But his words were overshadowed by allegations from France and the United States that Assad’s forces may have unleashed industrial chemicals on a rebel-held village in central Hama province this month. — AFP

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