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Syria Surrenders Last Chemical Arms, But Key Questions Persist

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

Syrians celebrate President Bashar Assad's re-election in Damascus earlier this month. Assad's government on Monday finished handing over its declared arsenal of chemical-warfare agents, an international watchdog said. Syrians celebrate President Bashar Assad's re-election in Damascus earlier this month. Assad's government on Monday finished handing over its declared arsenal of chemical-warfare agents, an international watchdog said. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

A top investigator said Syria has surrendered the final chemical arms it admitted to holding, but any secret arsenal may allow gas attacks to continue.

"The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura," said Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The final tanks of potentially lethal warfare substances reportedly had been locked in place by fighting around Damascus.

Monday's development bookends a months-long international campaign to remove roughly 1,300 metric tons of chemical-warfare materials from the violence-racked Middle Eastern nation. President Bashar Assad's government agreed to relinquish the stockpile last year, after nerve gas killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb and prompted threats of foreign intervention in Syria's civil war.

"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," Üzümcü said in a statement to reporters. "And this has been accomplished within very demanding and tight timeframes."

The disarmament effort encountered months of delays, though, and an international mandate to destroy the stockpile this month is now out of reach. Üzümcü last week said extending the deadline is out of the question, and the U.N. Security Council would consider how to respond, the Daily Sabah reported on Monday.

The chemical-arms watchdog chief added that his agency still has work to do in Syria. It remains unclear whether Assad's regime may be hiding more warfare chemicals, and Üzümcü urged the government to continue supporting an investigation into possible strikes with undeclared toxic gas.

"We hope to conclude soon the clarification of certain aspects of the Syrian declaration and commence the destruction of certain structures that were used as chemical-weapons production facilities," he added in his Monday announcement. Damascus denies it ever used chemical agents in combat, and blames opposition forces for any attacks with substances controlled under an international treaty it signed last year.

Meanwhile, a shipment of Syrian chemical-warfare stocks arrived in Finland on Saturday, Yle Uutiset reported. The stockpile's deadliest portion is slated for delivery to the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where it would be moved onto a specially equipped U.S. vessel for destruction.

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