1,300 metric tons of chemical weaponry are being removed, for destruction procedures, from Syria, which is involved in ongoing civil war that makes the chemicals a dangerous liability. While 92 percent have been shipped away or disposed of, the rebel fighting makes the final weapons difficult to access. The UN deadline for Syria’s complete destruction of chemical weapons is June 30, however another missed goal does not bode well for them meeting this expectation.
President Bashar al-Assad began making promises after late August when chemicals were used for a gas attack around the outskirts of Damascus, which caused the United States to heavily consider military invasion. The political opposition, seeking to take President Assad out of power, have become unorganized rebels that include groups like the al-Qaida-associated Nusra Front. The Syrian civil war has lasted three years, cost 150,000 lives, and displaced a third of Syria’s population from their homes.
Since the August conflict, the chemicals are being shipped to Latakia, a Mediterranean port, to be taken by Norwegian and Danish ships. From there, the arsenal travels to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro and placed on ships that are able to reduce the agents to low-toxicity waste which will be dumped.
April 13 was a self-imposed date the government set for removal from all accessible storage locations. April 27 was another deadline for complete disposal procedures to have finished which was not met. This process has been overseen by the joint mission of the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and is headed by Sigrid Kaag. She said that Syria has made “significant progress,” by conducting 18 removal operations so far. Kaag also reported they were conducted “always with due regard for the environment and public safety.” There is still time before the final destruction deadline for the chemical weapons, however rebels keep Syria from moving as fast as possible.
The permanent closure of production facilities is a notable achievement, and she added that the work was done quickly “and under difficult and challenging security conditions.” Kaag mentioned concern, however, in regards to the rebels. 12 chemical plants remain in areas where experts have no access to, yet. The OPCW is discussing the destruction plans. Moving quickly to destroy the arsenal, she said, is important so that “none of the chemical weapons material falls in the wrong hands.” Some of these locations are surrounded by battles that could expand without warning. She also said that achieving this disarmament would mean Syria would be absolved of “a major obligation that is a focus of much international attention.”
The attention is not unwarranted. Recently, the government was accused of using chlorine gas to fight locations held by the rebels. They allegedly deployed the gas where it affected men, women, and children with classic symptoms of difficulty breathing, severe coughing, and choking. Syrian government has adamantly denied involvement, and Kaag reported they were “unsubstantiated allegations.” However, no matter what group was behind the attacks, it demonstrates the need to remove the chemical weapons. It also alludes to another serious problem if the June deadline is missed, and chemical weapons are kept where Syrian rebels can use them, destructing the country.
By Whitney Hudson