The head of the mission charged with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons says Bashar al-Assad’s government has accelerated its efforts after several missed deadlines and that this month will be critical if the country is to totally eliminate its stockpiles by the 30 June deadline.
Sigrid Kaag told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council behind closed doors late on Wednesday that about one-third of Syria’s chemical weapons material had been removed or destroyed and “in the next few days we expect to reach … 40 or 41 per cent”.
The international community is aiming to remove and destroy 1,300 tonnes of chemicals.
The Damascus government missed a 31 December deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile from the war-torn country and a 5 February deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.
The Assad regime cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but says it remains fully committed to the process.
Ms Kaag said the Syrian authorities had submitted a revised timeline that would complete the removal and destruction of chemical weapons in the country between the middle and end of April.
“The month of March, as I informed the Security Council, is the critical month to look at continued progress toward the overall deadline,” she said.
The most toxic chemicals – including mustard gas and raw materials for making sarin nerve agent – are being put on Danish and Norwegian cargo ships at the Syrian port of Latakia and will be transferred to an American ship, MV Cape Ray, in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro. The Cape Ray is equipped with two machines that will render the chemicals inert.”
Ms Kaag said the revised timeline would be “in time, should all go well, to meet the overall deadline of 30 June”.
The international effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons programme was sparked by a chemical attack near Damascus last August that killed hundreds of people and was blamed on the Assad government, which denied involvement.
Meanwhile, Syrian state media said yesterday that a car bomb had exploded in the central city of Hama, killing at least four people.
The Sana news agency said an explosives-laden car had been detonated remotely in an area on the southern edge of Hama. It said at least 22 other people had been wounded in the attack.
The report did not say who was behind the blast and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Rebel groups, including those linked to al-Qaeda, have frequently targeted government institutions and troops with car bombs and suicide attacks.
Sana also reported that government forces had killed at least ten rebels in clashes on the outskirts of Homs yesterday. Syria’s third largest city has seen some of the heaviest fighting in the three-year conflict.