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Clashes Isolate Syria's Last Chemical-Arms Site

A tank belonging to the rebels' Islamic Front is pictured in the middle of a street during reported clashes with government forces in the Hanano district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in April. A rebel offensive near Damascus last week encroached on the country's last chemical weapons stocks. A tank belonging to the rebels' Islamic Front is pictured in the middle of a street during reported clashes with government forces in the Hanano district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in April. A rebel offensive near Damascus last week encroached on the country's last chemical weapons stocks. (Mohamad Al-Tayb/AFP/Getty Images)

A military offensive by Syrian rebels near a site holding chemical arms is halting progress to remove all such weapons from the country, Reuters reports.

The fighting took place near an air base east of Damascus, as rebels sought to confront regime forces focused on the capital. A second air base, 25 miles from the site of the reported fighting, is believed to contain precursor chemicals usable in weapons. The materials are to be shipped to the port city of Latakia for removal from the country under an agreement struck last year.

"It's a very contested area right now," Reuters quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying in a May 2 report. The diplomat said it was not yet clear if an alternative route circumventing rebel-held territory could be found.

The materials at Sayqal air base are thought to be the last cache of arms waiting to be disposed. The regime so far has removed 1,300 metric tons of chemical weaponry following the threat of military intervention in the wake of a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds last August.

The latest rebel offensive appeared to be funded by Gulf Arab supporters, Reuters reported, quoting unnamed activists.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, stressing the need to stick with an internationally agreed-upon timeline for removing all chemical weapons from Syria, Reuters reported separately.

"I pressed that we must see the last removal of the 8 percent remaining at a site near Damascus," the news service quoted Kerry as telling reporters. "We agreed that we would work on certain things to try to see if  it is possible to accelerate that process with an understanding that the government of Syria cannot delay."

The Syrian government has missed several deadlines for removing its arsenal of declared chemical arms.

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