UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - More Syrian chemical weapons materials were loaded onto ships and transferred out of Syria on Monday, a joint inspection mission run by the United Nations and the global chemical arms watchdog said.
The chemical weapons components will eventually be destroyed aboard a specially equipped U.S. ship.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s decision in September to give up chemical arms helped him avoid possible U.S. air strikes on government positions in retaliation for a poison gas attack near Damascus in August that killed hundreds of people, many of them women and children.
“Today, a further shipment of chemical weapons materials took place from the Syrian Arab Republic,” the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement.
The statement provided no details on the shipment.
Syria agreed to dismantle its entire chemical weapons program by June 30, under a deal proposed by Russia and the United States and made legally binding with a U.N. Security Council resolution.
It has been nearly three weeks since the first shipment of chemicals reached the northern port of Latakia on January 7 and was transferred onto a Danish vessel. The ship is expected to keep returning to the port to pick up more containers of priority A chemicals as they arrive at the port until it has a full load.
The chemicals will be transferred onto a U.S. ship for destruction.
The most dangerous chemicals from Syria - including components for making Sarin and VX nerve agent, known as priority A chemicals - are supposed to be removed from Syria first, U.N. diplomats said.
“The chemical materials were verified by Joint Mission personnel before being loaded in Latakia port onto Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels for onward transportation,” it said. “The vessels were accompanied by a naval escort provided by ... China, Denmark, Norway and the Russian Federation.”
The announcement that a second shipment took place comes amid concerns about the slow pace of the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal.
“The Joint Mission looks forward to the Syrian Arab Republic continuing its efforts to complete the removal of its chemical weapons materials in a safe, secure and timely manner,” the U.N.-OPCW statement said.
Syria’s three-year civil war has left more than 100,000 dead and caused millions to flee their homes, according to U.N. figures. U.N. investigators have confirmed that chemical weapons were used on multiple occasions, though both the government and rebels deny using them.
U.S. and European officials say Assad’s government was responsible for the chemical attacks, though the government denies the allegation. Russia has also disputed that allegation and suggested there was evidence the rebels have deployed poison gas.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bernadette Baum