Syria ships out first batch of chemical arms

 08 Jan 2014 - 3:06


A handout picture taken on January 5, 2014, and released by Norwegian Armed Forces, the Danish support vessel L17 “Esbern Snare” on training with the Norwegian frigate HNoMS “Helge Ingstad” in the Mediterranean sea in preparation to escort a delayed shipment of Syria’s chemical agents for destruction.

Damascuss/BEIRUT: Syria has moved the first batch of chemical weapon materials out of the country after transporting it from two sites to the port city of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel, the international chemical weapons watchdog said yesterday.
“The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway, as well as the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement. “It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.”
Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and hashed out with the United States after an August 21 sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on President Bashar Al Assad’s forces. Damascus blames rebels for the attack.
War, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues delayed a December 31 deadline for the removal of the most deadly toxins from Syria. The OPCW did not say what percentage of the “most critical” chemicals, including around 20 tonnes of mustard nerve agent, were on the Danish vessel.
The Syrian government is responsible for the safe packaging, transport along roads to Latakia - including the main highway from the capital where rebels are still active - and removal of chemical weapons.
 Meanwhile, Syria’s Information Minister said yesterday the people have decided President Bashar Al Assad should be nominated for another term and would pressure him to stand in elections this year.
The comments were the strongest indication yet that Assad intends to extend his rule and are sure to anger opposition politicians and fighters who have been waging a nearly three-year struggle to end his rule.
Assad’s status in any future political order in Syria has been a stumbling block to bringing both sides to a peace conference scheduled to be held in Geneva on January 22.
The opposition, represented by a Western-backed coalition, has demanded that the conference aim to remove Assad from power, while Damascus has insisted that he stay.
In a televised press conference, Information Minister Omran Zoabi said Assad’s decision was personal and had not been announced yet, but that the “Syrian street” wanted him to run.
Last month, a Russian diplomat signalled Assad should refrain from statements suggesting he might seek re-election because it could fuel tension before the planned peace talks. Moscow has been a vital ally to the Syrian president.
Yesterday, Iranian media reported that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran would not accept any preconditions for participating in the Geneva talks.
“If we get invited officially then we will take part at the meeting,” he said during a meeting with visiting Syrian deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al Meqdad, according to the report.
Britain has granted asylum to around 1,500 Syrians fleeing the brutal conflict in the last year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg revealed yesterday, as rights groups and even anti-immigration politicians urged action over the refugee crisis.
The British government has defended its policy of focusing on giving aid to help more than 2.35 million refugees caught up in the civil war, rather than offering a comprehensive resettlement programme.
But Clegg appeared to surprise opposition politicians when he told parliament that Britain had in fact given asylum to some 1,500 Syrian refugees since January 2013. “We have accepted about 1,500 asylum seekers,” he said.