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Syria Misses Deadline on Most Dangerous Chemicals

First milestone in plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons by mid 2014 missed, as most lethal weapons not shipped Dec. 31.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 1/1/2014, 1:13 AM

Illustration: Syrian chemical weapons
Illustration: Syrian chemical weapons
Thinkstock

The first milestone in plans to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by mid 2014 was missed on Tuesday, as shipments of the country's most dangerous chemicals did not make it to the Mediterranean port of Latakia, from there to be shipped to their destruction.

The December 31 deadline for the most deadly weapons was reportedly missed due to bad weather, constantly changing lines of battle, and road closures, reports BBC. These weapons include toxins that can be used to make the nerve agents sarin gas, VX gas and others.

Plans to destroy Syria's chemical weapons were formed following an August 21 sarin gas attack on Damascus that drew international ire. In response to US threats of military action, President Bashar Assad agreed to destroy his arsenal.

According to the plans, US satellites and Chinese surveillance cameras were to track Russian armored tracks transporting the weapons from 12 storage sites in Syria to Latakia.

There, Danish and Norwegian cargo ships were to bring the shipment to a port in Italy, where they were to be loaded on a US ship and destroyed in international waters through hydrolysis. Reports previously revealed that the process has never been tested at sea.

However, the ships waiting to remove the weapons returned to port in Cyprus, as the chemicals never reached Latakia.

"We are still on high alert to go into Syria," reported Norwegian Defense Ministry spokesman Lars Hovtun. "We still don't know exactly when the orders will come."

Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has already won a Nobel Prize after being charged with removing the chemicals, on Saturday acknowledged that "at this stage, transportation of the most critical chemical material before 31 December is unlikely."

"A number of external factors have impacted upon timelines, not least the continuing volatility in overall security conditions, which have constrained planned movements," added the OPCW.

The volatility of security conditions may refer to the ongoing fighting in Aleppo, which broke out in earnest in mid-December and has left over 500 dead.

The situation appears to be further destabilizing, as on Monday for the first time Lebanon fired on Syrian war planes violating its airspace to raid an area supportive of rebel forces. The exchange of fire raises fears that the fighting will spill over Syrian borders.

On Monday, the US state department declared that it is "the Assad regime's responsibility to transport the chemicals to the port safely, to facilitate their removal." However, the US added "as long as we see forward progress, that what's most important here."