Syria claims it remains committed to destroying its chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of this year, despite missing another deadline on Wednesday.
The delay is being blamed by officials loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the ongoing war with anti-regime militants and comes despite an international agreement brokered in September last year to avert a US strike, mooted in the aftermath of a chemical attack in east Damascus that killed hundreds and drew global outrage.
Less than 5 percent of Syria’s chemical arsenal, thought to total more than 1,300 tonnes, has been shipped out for destruction. By now, more than 90 percent should have been surrendered, according to a time line prescribed by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Neither body would comment on Wednesday, saying the situation “spoke for itself.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned earlier this week that there would be “consequences” if the terms of the deal were not honored. The agreement had stipulated that all 500 tonnes of “category two” chemicals were to have been moved to the port of Latakia on Syria’s northwest coast by Wednesday. Another 700 tonnes should have left the country by Dec. 31.
Russia, which was instrumental in brokering the deal, played down the delays and said Syria would still move out a large quantity of chemicals by the end of this month.
The issue of Syria’s chemical weapons, one of the largest arsenals anywhere in the world, has been one of the most contentious themes of the civil war, which is now nearing a fourth year and showing no signs of slowing down.
After face-to-face talks in Geneva, Switzerland, last week failed to yield any substantive concessions, Russia said regime officials would attend a second round scheduled to resume on Monday. However, hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough appear dim as fighting continues to rage in several parts of the country, particularly Aleppo.
Activists in Syria’s largest city claim that more than 1,200 people have been killed there since the first day of the Geneva summit on Jan. 22. Aleppo’s high toll has been caused by internecine fighting between rebel groups and a daily barrage of high explosive bombs, filled with shrapnel and fuel, dropped from helicopters high above the city that wreak massive destruction on neighborhoods below.
Medics in Aleppo claim that 15 children sheltering in a mosque were killed early on Wednesday when one such bomb struck the building. It was reportedly being used as a school. Kerry said the regime was attempting to boost its battlefield standing before another Geneva round.
“Each and every day that the barrel-bombing of Aleppo continues, the [al-]Assad regime reminds the world of its true colors,” Kerry said in a statement. “It is the latest barbaric act of a regime that has committed organized, wholesale torture, used chemical weapons, and is starving whole communities by blocking delivery of food to Syrian civilians in urgent need. Given this horrific legacy, the Syrian people would never accept as legitimate a government including [al-]Assad.”