NICOSIA (Reuters) - The head of the international team of weapons experts charged with overseeing the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile told Reuters on Monday that Syria had removed all its declared arsenal from its territory.
“Today the joint mission confirms the 100 percent removal of Syria’s declared chemical weapon material,” said Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint team of experts from the United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Her comments echoed sources in The Hague who earlier on Monday told Reuters that Syria had handed over the remaining 100 tonnes of declared toxic materials, equivalent to about eight percent of a total 1,300 tonnes reported to the OPCW.
“It’s a critical day. It’s a benchmark in the overall elimination program of Syria’s chemical weapons,” Kaag said, adding she expected work would start within three months on a process to destroy 12 production sites and tunnels linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Syrian state television quoted a source at the country’s foreign ministry confirming that “the last shipment of chemical materials was transported out of the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic” on Monday.
Syria agreed last September to destroy its entire chemical weapons program under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The agreement averted U.S. military strikes in response to the worst chemical weapons attack in decades, which Washington and its European allies blamed on Assad’s regime. Assad blames rebels battling to oust him for the chemical attack.
Fighting around Damascus had held up the shipment of the last batch.
Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones