Clashes Isolate Syria’s Last Chemical-Arms Site

Global Security Newswire Staff
May 5, 2014, 7:12 a.m.

A mil­it­ary of­fens­ive by Syr­i­an rebels near a site hold­ing chem­ic­al arms is halt­ing pro­gress to re­move all such weapons from the coun­try, Re­u­ters re­ports.

The fight­ing took place near an air base east of Dam­as­cus, as rebels sought to con­front re­gime forces fo­cused on the cap­it­al. A second air base, 25 miles from the site of the re­por­ted fight­ing, is be­lieved to con­tain pre­curs­or chem­ic­als us­able in weapons. The ma­ter­i­als are to be shipped to the port city of Latakia for re­mov­al from the coun­try un­der an agree­ment struck last year.

“It’s a very con­tested area right now,” Re­u­ters quoted an un­named dip­lo­mat as say­ing in a May 2 re­port. The dip­lo­mat said it was not yet clear if an al­tern­at­ive route cir­cum­vent­ing rebel-held ter­rit­ory could be found.

The ma­ter­i­als at Sayqal air base are thought to be the last cache of arms wait­ing to be dis­posed. The re­gime so far has re­moved 1,300 met­ric tons of chem­ic­al weaponry fol­low­ing the threat of mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in the wake of a sar­in gas at­tack that killed hun­dreds last Au­gust.

The latest rebel of­fens­ive ap­peared to be fun­ded by Gulf Ar­ab sup­port­ers, Re­u­ters re­por­ted, quot­ing un­named act­iv­ists.

Mean­while, U.S. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry on Sat­urday spoke with Rus­si­an For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lav­rov, stress­ing the need to stick with an in­ter­na­tion­ally agreed-upon timeline for re­mov­ing all chem­ic­al weapons from Syr­ia, Re­u­ters re­por­ted sep­ar­ately.

“I pressed that we must see the last re­mov­al of the 8 per­cent re­main­ing at a site near Dam­as­cus,” the news ser­vice quoted Kerry as telling re­port­ers. “We agreed that we would work on cer­tain things to try to see if  it is pos­sible to ac­cel­er­ate that pro­cess with an un­der­stand­ing that the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ia can­not delay.”

The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment has missed sev­er­al dead­lines for re­mov­ing its ar­sen­al of de­clared chem­ic­al arms.

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