The last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been shipped from the country and are en route for destruction at sea, according to the world’s chemical-weapons watchdog.
A Danish ship is now to take the chemicals for transhipment in Italy’s port of Gioia Tauro to the US ship Cape Ray for destruction at sea, while some chemicals are to be destroyed at sites including in the US and Britain.
“As we speak, the ship [carrying the last chemicals] has just left the port,” Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said in The Hague on Monday.
“Removing the stockpile of precursor and other chemicals has been a fundamental condition in the programme to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
“While a major chapter in our endeavours closes today, OPCW’s work in Syria will continue.”
The Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Monday that “the final cargo of chemical agents has today been taken outside Syrian territory”.
Syria had previously shipped out 92 percent of its stockpile of chemical weapons under the terms of a UN-backed and US-Russia-brokered agreement last year.
But the remaining eight percent of the stockpile remained at one site and Syria said it was unable to transport it to the port of Latakia because of security concerns.
In his remarks on Monday, Uzumcu described the disarmament mission as “a major undertaking marked by an extraordinary international cooperation.
“Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict”.
Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch head of the joint OPCW-UN mission, also lauded the end of what she called “the most operationally challenging task within the effort to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons programme”.
Referring to an investigation into alleged use of chlorine in Syria’s conflict, Uzumcu said it will resume but “may take a little more time”.
Last week, an OPCW investigation team said chlorine, which Syria was not obliged to hand over, has recently been used in Syria “in a systematic manner”.
Assad’s government and rebels have both accused the other of using chemical agents in the bloody uprising that began in March 2011.
Syria did not have to declare its stockpile of chlorine – a weak toxic agent that can be considered a chemical weapon if used offensively – as part of the disarmament deal as it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes.
Under last year’s agreement Syria had until the end of June for the destruction of its chemical weapons, but it has been widely acknowledged that the deadline would not be met.
The deal was reached after a sarin nerve gas attack in a rebel-held Damascus suburb killed around 1,400 people.
Syria agreed to hand over its chemical arsenal after the US threatened air strikes.