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Syria hands over chemical weapons

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Syria hands over chemical weapons

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Syria yesterday handed over to Western governments the last of the chemical weapons stockpile that it has acknowledged having, although doubts remain about whether all toxic weapons have truly been removed from the increasingly unstable region.
The milestone comes amid tense days across the Middle East, as Israel carried out strikes on Syria in response to a Syrian attack in the Golan Heights a day earlier, and a Syrian cabinet member warned that Sunni insurgents in neighbouring Iraq have been transferring weapons and equipment to rebel allies in Syria.
During a visit to Baghdad, United States Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the Syrian handover of the stockpile as a significant step toward diminishing the threat of chemical warfare in the region, but warned that the use of chlorine gas remains a serious issue amid the three-year war in Syria that has claimed an estimated 160 000 lives.
“We are always going to remain truly appalled at the level of death and destruction that continues to consume Syria, notwithstanding the removal of these weapons,” he said.
Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, confirmed yesterday that the final eight percent of Syria’s 1 300-ton stockpile – which included mustard gas and raw materials for making sarin nerve gas – has been loaded onto a Danish ship in the Syrian port of Latakia before it is destroyed.
He acknowledged that Syria could still be hiding some of its arsenal.
“I can’t say … that Syria doesn’t have any chemical weapons anymore,” Uzumcu said, while acknowledging that that was true of any country that his organisation works with. He said Syria’s declared arsenal was close to estimates made by external security analysts and experts before its disarmament process began.
He described the Syrian government’s cooperation as “satisfactory”.
The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to surrender its arsenal last fall when the U.S. threatened punitive missile strikes after a chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus that is believed to have killed more than a thousand people.