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      OPCW: Assad Dragging His Feet on Chemical Weapons Dismantlement

      Watchdog group accuses Assad government of not handing over full weapons stash fast enough.
      By Tova Dvorin
      First Publish: 1/8/2014, 5:01 PM

      UN chemical weapons experts in Syria
      UN chemical weapons experts in Syria
      Reuters

      The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has called on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime to speed up its handover of its chemical weapons stockpile. 

      "We are exhorting the Syrian government to intensify its efforts, so we can conclude the critical part of this mission absolutely as fast as the conditions allow," Michael Luhan, spokesman for the OPCW, said Wednesday, according to Reuters news agency.

      "We are happy to see there is finally movement. We hope to see that that movement continues regularly now through the next few weeks, so we can get these chemicals out of the country as quickly as possible."

      The first weapons batch began the process earlier Wednesday, after being transferred to a Dutch ship via the Latakia port.

      "The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway, as well as the Syrian Arab Republic," the OPCW said in a statement. "It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port."

      Syria already missed the December 31 deadline for its deadliest weapons to be decommissioned, due to various factors including shifting front lines, bad weather, and "technical issues". 

      Plans to destroy Syria's chemical weapons were formed following an August 21 sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed over 500 and drew international ire. Allegations from the US and other Western powers accused Bashar Assad's forces of being responsible for the attack, and threatened military intervention. That threat eventually was withdrawn after an international effort was launched to destroy the chemicals. 

      Russia and the UN eventually solidified the plan to destroy the weapons in September. The UN Security Council backed the move

      A recent report by UN inspectors released said that chemical weapons have been used at least five times during the Syrian conflict and in some cases children and civilians have been slaughtered.