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Third Chemical-Arms Shipment Leaves Syria

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

A ship docked at Italy's Gioia Tauro seaport, which is slated to host the transfer of warfare chemicals removed from Syria. The Syrian government on Monday turned over a third load of chemical-arms materials as part of an international disarmament operation. A ship docked at Italy's Gioia Tauro seaport, which is slated to host the transfer of warfare chemicals removed from Syria. The Syrian government on Monday turned over a third load of chemical-arms materials as part of an international disarmament operation. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

A transport ship on Monday removed a third chemical-arms cache from Syria as part of a global effort to destroy the ruling regime's chemical arsenal.

The extraction of the chemicals by a Norwegian cargo ship took place days after the U.N. Security Council formally pressed Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to accelerate transfers of its chemical-warfare stocks onto foreign freighters, which were initially scheduled to finish removing the bulk of the materials by last week.

"A significant effort is needed to ensure the chemicals that still remain in Syria are removed -- in accordance with a concrete schedule and without further delays," Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in prepared comments.

Less than 5 percent of Syria's chemical arsenal reportedly had been removed from the country prior to Monday's shipment. No details on the size of the latest delivery are included in a statement released on Monday by Üzümcü's agency and the United Nations.

The organizations confirmed, though, that Assad's government has proceeded to destroy "some chemical materials" within Syrian borders. They did not specify the type or quantity of chemical assets targeted for domestic elimination.

Damascus has attempted to justify delays in handing over the deadliest portions of its chemical arsenal by citing complications in moving the materials across the violence-racked nation, from inland storage facilities to the country's Latakia seaport. However, the basis for that argument has faced pointed criticism from international overseers, who said Assad's government holds the equipment it needs to ensure the safety of overland chemical shipments.

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, has backed the regime's defense of its slow progress in turning over the chemical stocks. Last week, though, Moscow said Damascus intended to hand over a significant portion of the remaining materials by March 1.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week joined Russian diplomats in offering assurances that an end-of-June deadline is still within reach for the stockpile's full destruction. The international push to rid Damascus of its chemical arsenal began weeks after a release of sarin nerve agent took place last August in a Damascus suburb, allegedly killing more than 1,400 people. Assad's government denied responsibility for the strike, but it admitted possessing chemical arms and agreed to cooperate in their elimination.

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