First batch of chemical weapons moved from Syria

Tuesday 07 January 2014 19.56
Norwegian marines were tasked with assisting in the transport of chemical agents from Syria
Norwegian marines were tasked with assisting in the transport of chemical agents from Syria

Syria has moved the first batch of chemical weapon materials out of the country.

The weapons were transported from two sites to the port city of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel, the international chemical weapons watchdog said today.

"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."

The OPCW did not disclose what percentage of Syria's toxic arsenal, which totals 1,300 tonnes, had been removed.

However, it said nine containers of the most dangerous chemical materials were on the Danish cargo vessel.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed with the United States after a 21 August sarin gas attack that western nations blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Mr ASsad's government blames rebels for the attack.

Meanwhile, Syria's Information Minister has said the Syrian people have decided Mr 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 Mr 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.

Mr 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 22 January.

The opposition, represented by a western-backed coalition, has demanded that the conference aim to remove Mr Assad from power, while Damascus has insisted that he stay.

In a televised press conference, Information Minister Omran Zoabi said Mr Assad's decision was personal and had not been announced yet, but that the "Syrian street" wanted him to run.

"I can assure you that there is a popular Syrian decision to nominate President Bashar al-Assad for the presidency of the republic," he said.

"It is his personal decision, which concerns him personally, but I also assure you that the Syrian street will pressure President Bashar al-Assad to nominate himself for the presidency of the republic."