Syrian authorities on Thursday gave up a third batch of warfare chemicals in under a week, apparently accelerating moves toward relinquishing their stockpile.
The latest delivery boosted the quantity of substances surrendered by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime to almost half of its declared chemical arsenal, according to the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Danish and Norwegian transport ships are removing the materials from the war-stricken country in a disarmament effort launched after a large-scale sarin gas attack just outside of Damascus in August.
"When all of the Syrian chemicals from all storage sites have been loaded aboard the Danish and Norwegian cargo ships, they will be transported to various locations for destruction under the verification of OPCW inspectors," the international watchdog agency said in a statement. The organization added that its personnel in Syria are supporting preparations to eliminate several chemical-arms manufacturing sites.
Thursday's chemical-arms shipment followed a Wednesday OPCW announcement that two prior deliveries -- one on Friday and another on Monday -- had left Syria through the country's Latakia seaport. Taken together, the transfers appeared to reflect an increase in the pace of removal as predicted late last month by Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of a U.N.-OPCW mission overseeing the disarmament process.
Damascus initially was scheduled to finish sending its weapons agents overseas by early February, laying the groundwork for full destruction of the substances by the end of June. However, international planners extended the removal timeline into April after the regime missed prior targets.
Assad's government blamed delays on opposition threats to the materials during transport to the Latakia pickup point. However, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon determined that Damascus was equipped to move faster, and the U.N. Security Council last month formally urged the regime to boost the effort's speed. The delays reportedly also prompted Washington to revisit options to act against the government in Syria's civil war, which is now entering its fourth year.
The latest shipment -- the regime's eleventh since January -- means that Assad has surrendered 49.3 percent of his chemical-warfare materials to date, according to OPCW figures. That amount includes 34.8 percent of the "Priority 1" substances deemed to be his deadliest chemical assets, as well as 82.6 percent of his lower-grade stocks.
In a related development, Germany on Wednesday said it is investigating whether companies within its borders illegally equipped Syria in the 1980s and 1990s with materials capable of supporting chemical-arms production, Reuters reported. German businesses might have supplied Syria with mechanical equipment, control systems and sulfuric acid suitable for manufacturing sarin nerve agent, according to a Wednesday news report by Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
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