If Syria’s government can remove all ingredients for making poison gas and nerve agents from the country by the end of this month, an ambitious June 30 deadline for destroying the chemicals should be met, a spokesman for the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, more than 50 fighters were slain in eastern Syria and government shelling killed at least four people in the country’s west.
It has taken Damascus months to ship out just more than half of the 1,300 tonne stockpile. Overland shipments through the civil-war-torn country to the Port of Latakia are happening only sporadically.
Under a timeline drawn up last year, the most toxic chemicals were to have been removed from the country by Dec. 31 last year, but that deadline was missed due to poor security and other factors.
Syria later submitted a new schedule.
“Right now, we have got 17 days left according to the timetable that the Syrian government gave to the OPCW with which they committed to remove their chemical weapons,” said Michael Luhan of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Luhan was speaking in the Spanish port of Rota, where US authorities showed reporters around a ship, the Cape Ray, equipped to neutralize Syrian chemicals.
The Cape Ray’s crew will treat the most toxic material, monitored day and night by OPCW experts. The waste will then be destroyed on land.
US Navy Rear Admiral Robert Burke of the US Sixth Fleet said no waste would escape.
“The entire unit is self-contained. There are layers of environmental controls that protect the air while we are handling the materials on board the ship,” he said. “And then the entire process is contained in tanks within the ship, within those environmental controls. So, layer upon layer of containment.”
Fierce infighting between rival Islamic rebel groups killed more than 50 fighters in the east on Thursday, an opposition group said, and Syrian government strikes left at least four teenagers dead in the west.
The rebel infighting took place around the town of Bukamal in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour Province near the Iraqi border, between rebels from the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and fighters of the Nusra Front and other Islamic groups.
The two sides have fought each other for months over territory they previously captured together from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 51 died in the rebel-on-rebel fighting on Thursday.
The numbers could not be independently confirmed and calls to activists in the area went unanswered.
It was the latest episode in a relentless cycle of blood and violence that has gripped the country since March 2011, when the uprising against al-Assad’s rule began.
Meanwhile, activists said four teenagers were killed in the rebel-held town of Rastan, just north of Homs, a day after two car bombs exploded in a Syrian government-controlled district, killing 25 and wounding more than 100.
Opposition groups, including the Local Coordination Committees and the Observatory, said a barrage of artillery shells killed the teenagers.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos condemned the car bombing in Homs.
“Two volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were among the injured as they arrived in an ambulance to treat people hurt in the first blast, and were caught in the second. Attacks on civilians are war crimes and may also amount to crimes against humanity,” Amos said.