Syria Hands Over Last of Declared Chemical Weapons, Monitor Says

BEIRUT (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

The last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons material was loaded onto a Danish vessel Monday for future destruction, marking a “major landmark” in the effort to do away with the nation’s toxic arsenal, an international oversight agency said.

The action would appear to signal an end the most difficult and controversial stage of an ambitious program to eliminate Syria’s once-imposing chemical weapons program.

Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict.

The government of President Bashar Assad agreed to the destruction of its toxic arsenal last year in a deal brokered by the United States and Russia that averted threatened U.S. airstrikes on Syria for its alleged use of the nerve agent sarin outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. Syria denied using poison gas on the battlefield in its civil war, but still acceded to an international plan to destroy its stockpiles.

A United Nations investigation found that sarin had been used but did not conclude which side in the conflict was responsible.

Many experts were skeptical that the ambitious effort to destroy the Syrian arsenal could be completed in less than a year, the time frame outlined in a United Nations-backed destruction plan. That the process unfolded as Syria was engulfed in a war greatly complicated matters.

Syrian authorities had to transport hazardous chemicals through roads subject to attack from rebels. Russia lent its ally, Syria, armored vehicles and other assistance to help with the task.

The latest shipment of chemicals is to be sent for destruction aboard a specially rigged U.S. vessel, the Cap Ray, and at commercial facilities in Europe and the United States.

Some skeptics have alleged that Syria may have failed to declare some part of its arsenal.

The Syrian government has denied holding back any chemical weapons materials. The OPCW has noted that Syria’s declared stockpiles were in line with outside estimates of the size of the nation’s chemical weapons program.