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Syria Moves to Send Out Last Batch of Chemical Arms

The HDMS Esbern Snare, a Danish warship helping to escort chemical-arms shipments from Syria, is seen earlier this month off the coast of Cyprus. The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday said Syria's government has begun moving to surrender its final declared warfare chemicals. The HDMS Esbern Snare, a Danish warship helping to escort chemical-arms shipments from Syria, is seen earlier this month off the coast of Cyprus. The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday said Syria's government has begun moving to surrender its final declared warfare chemicals. (Yiannis Kourtoglou/AFP/Getty Images)

Syria's government is taking steps to surrender its final declared warfare chemicals in a disarmament process held up for months, Reuters reports.

The last cache of chemical weapons revealed by President Bashar Assad's regime "is starting to be moved as we speak," U.S. Defense Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said on Tuesday. The government so far has sent out more than nine-tenths of the arms it agreed to give up last year, after an August sarin attack in rebel territory prompted threats of an international military response.

An unnamed Pentagon insider said Syrian authorities had moved to ready a portion of the remaining stocks for shipment. Foreign vessels were initially slated to finish moving the warfare substances out of the country by early February, but Assad's regime said it slowed down transfers to its coast to help ensure protection of the materials.

Washington's disclosures came after Syria's government finished eliminating its reported inventory of isopropyl alcohol, an ingredient for sarin nerve agent.

"Now 7.2 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons material remains in country," says a Tuesday statement from an oversight operation managed by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande threatened punitive steps against Assad over reports of chemical strikes launched since the disarmament effort began, the Daily Star reported. However, Hollande made no mention of potential military action, the newspaper indicated.

"If traces of [chemical arms] are spotted again, we will use all the legal means to once again condemn the regime, and press on with the sanctions," the leader said on Tuesday.

His warning followed numerous claims of new Syrian chemical strikes involving chlorine, a toxic industrial chemical not covered by the disarmament plan. The regime has blamed all chemical strikes on its enemies in the country's civil war, which began in 2011.

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