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

Syria transferred its third shipment of chemical weapons for destruction on Monday, the first sign of advancement in the international effort since the US and other Western powers upbraided the Assad regime for dragging its feet on the project over 10 days ago. 

"The Joint Mission confirms that in-country destruction of some chemical materials has taken place alongside the removal of chemical weapons material, and welcomes progress to date," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the watchdog group overseeing the effort, stated. "The Syrian Arab Republic is encouraged to expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials." 

The statement also confirmed that the weapons had been loaded onto a Norwegian ship in charge of destroying the chemicals at the Latakia port, but declined to mention the size of the shipment. 

The international operation to destroy Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemicals is a joint Russian-U.S. plan that was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September. The resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent an American strike on Syria in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on a Damascus suburb in August that left hundreds dead.

War, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues delayed a December 31 deadline for the removal of the most deadly toxins from Syria.

Despite the delays, the first batch of chemical weapon materials was moved out of the country earlier this month, and a second shipment was removed earlier this week. However, the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said this week that Damascus had handed over less than five percent of the most dangerous chemicals in its possession, triggered accusations that the regime was simply playing for time and had no intention of surrendering its full stockpile.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned at the end of last month that Syria could face consequences if the process did not continue to advance. 

"We now know that the Assad regime is not moving as rapidly as it promised to move the chemical weapons out of Syria," he said, according to AFP. "I would remind Bashar Al-Assad that the agreement that we reached in New York with the (UN) Security Council makes it clear that if there are issues of non-compliance, they will be referred to the Security Council for Chapter 7 compliance purposes." 

Chapter 7 of the UN Charter relates to acts of aggression and breaches of the peace, which can often mandate a military response.

According to the Washington Post, the OPCW's executive council will meet on February 21, and is likely to conduct a formal review of the process so far. 

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