Syria's government has stopped transferring chemical arms to a coastal pickup point, citing threats from a nearby rebel incursion, Reuters reports.
Shipments of warfare chemicals into Syria's Latakia province halted after March 20, the United Nations indicated on Thursday. To explain the stoppage, Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime referenced an opposition offensive launched around that time near the provincial capital, where foreign vessels are taking the materials for destruction outside the war-devastated nation.
Assad's chief U.N. delegate said the suspension may force additional lags in a schedule for relinquishing the government's chemical stockpile. Damascus agreed to support the arsenal's dismantlement after an August nerve-gas strike raised the prospect of foreign military intervention, and international authorities are pushing to fully eliminate the hazardous materials by the end of June.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said disarmament efforts would fall further behind schedule "unless the security situation evolves in the right direction."
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq, though, said overseers pressed Assad's government "to resume [chemical] movements as soon as possible in order to meet the timelines."
Sigrid Kaag, the international disarmament effort's special coordinator, said Damascus earlier this week communicated an intention to restart shipments to the Latakia seaport "in coming days," according to participants in a U.N. Security Council briefing on Thursday.
Kaag reportedly said that if shipments restarted right away, it would still be possible to finish removing the chemicals this month and fully eliminate them by June. She added, though, that the schedule is growing more daunting, according to insiders.
Shipping out materials now packaged at three sites would bring the portion of removed stocks to roughly 90 percent, envoys quoted Kaag as saying.
Meanwhile, rebels said Assad's forces on Thursday released warfare chemicals on the Damascus suburb of Jobar, Reuters reported separately. Earlier this week, the government said opposition forces in the neighborhood were plotting a chemical attack.