Syria misses chemical weapons deadline

Deputy foreign minister says government ‘proceeding with determination’ to meet goal

Syria has missed a deadline to hand over all the toxic materials it declared to the world's chemical weapons watchdog. The delay puts the programme several weeks behind schedule and could jeopardise a final June 30th target.

At the same time, opposition activists say the Syrian air force is attacking the country's biggest city, Aleppo, with barrel bombs, forcing many to flee. Turkey was turning away some of those refugees because camps were now full.

Under a deal reached in October between Russia and the United States, which helped avert a US-led missile strike against the government of president Bashar al-Assad, Syria agreed to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons by February 5th.

Russia said yesterday its ally Damascus would ship more chemicals soon, but Western diplomats said they saw no indications that further shipments were pending.

Syria has said it would submit a handover timetable to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, but gave no indication of when that would happen.

There have been no shipments since January 27th and the latest deadline was missed, said OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan. "It's a status quo until we get this plan."

Deputy foreign minister Faisal al-Meqdad today said Syria was trying to meet its obligations.

“Syria is proceeding with all determination, strength and credibility to fully implement the agreements with the UN-OPCW,” the Syrian national news agency SANA quoted him as saying.

In an apparent reference to clearing a road through disputed territory to the northern port of Latakia for shipment abroad, Mr Meqdad said "there can be no leniency at all when it comes to transporting chemical weapons out of Syria".

British prime minister David Cameron said he was worried that the chemical weapons handover was behind schedule, and British diplomats said they planned to raise the matter at the United Nations Security Council tomorrow.

“Britain will continue to put pressure on all parties to make sure the chemical weapons are produced and destroyed,” Mr Cameron told parliament in London.

Syria had already missed a December 31st deadline to relinquish the most poisonous chemical agents, including mustard gas and sarin precursors.

So far, Syria has transported slightly more than 4 per cent of the 1,300 tonnes it reported to the OPCW. The two small shipments of chemicals are being stored on a Danish vessel in the Mediterranean.

Under the US-Russian agreement, prompted by a sarin gas attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians, Syria has until June 30th, or another five months, to completely eliminate its chemical weapons programme.