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Italy Tries to Soothe Port Concerns on Syria Chemical Hand-off

Technicians earlier this month handle chemical-destruction equipment on the U.S. vessel MV Cape Ray, which is scheduled in coming weeks to pick up a cache of Syrian chemical-warfare materials at the Italian seaport of Gioia Tauro. Italian ministers on Tuesday attempted to reassure local officials and residents that the handover would be safe. Technicians earlier this month handle chemical-destruction equipment on the U.S. vessel MV Cape Ray, which is scheduled in coming weeks to pick up a cache of Syrian chemical-warfare materials at the Italian seaport of Gioia Tauro. Italian ministers on Tuesday attempted to reassure local officials and residents that the handover would be safe. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy is moving to alleviate local fears over plans to transfer Syria's most dangerous warfare chemicals between ships at a local seaport, Reuters reports.

Cabinet-level Italian officials discussed the plan on Tuesday with political leaders and dockyard administrators in and around Gioia Tauro, the southern Italian port slated to temporarily host Syrian President Bashar Assad's "priority" chemical stocks as they are moved next month from a Danish transport ship to a U.S. chemical-destruction vessel.

In addition, the central government said it would hand out informational literature to locals in an effort "to avoid any further unjustified alarmism."

National officials said the Syrian materials are no more hazardous than other substances regularly handled at the seaport, which is located near the tip of the Italian "boot."

Moving the 560-ton cache of chemical arms and weapon ingredients through Gioia Tauro is expected to take no more than 24 hours, according to Italy's national government. The location last year facilitated the movement of nearly 30,000 tons of equally hazardous cargo, Italy said.

The handover would take place as part of an international operation to remove Assad's entire chemical arsenal from Syria and destroy the stockpile by the middle of this year. Assad agreed to the destruction of his chemical stockpile after an August nerve-gas strike led to the possibility of U.S. military intervention in his country's civil war.

Gioia Tauro's mayor last week pledged to contest the transfer plan, and argued that his town lacks adequate medical capacities for responding to any chemical-related incidents. He added that he had not been consulted in advance of the national government's decision about the planned handover.

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