After blowing past the original December 31st deadline, Syria has finally started shipping chemical weapons out of the country, a crucial step in the international effort to rid the country of its chemical weapons arsenal. According to the Organisation For The Prohibition Of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), nine containers of “priority chemical materials” were transported out of the country by way of a Danish vessel today, and more are soon to come. Once the materials are out of Syria, they’ll be transported to international waters, where a U.S. ship will neutralize them with a never-before-used weapons disposal system.
"This is an important step commencing the transportation of these materials as part of the plan to complete their disposal outside the territory of Syria," said OPCW Director-General Mehmet Uzumcu. "I encourage the Syrian government to maintain the momentum to remove the remaining priority chemicals, in a safe and timely manner, so that they can be destroyed outside of Syria as quickly as possible."
Per a plan brokered by the U.S. and Russia, Syria was supposed to get rid of its most dangerous chemical weapons components by the end of 2013. However, they missed that deadline due to bad weather, security concerns, and general havoc caused by the country’s ongoing civil war. But now the plan is on back on course, and security for today’s shipment was provided by Danish, Norwegian, Chinse and Russian ships.
This is only the first step in a longer process. As of now, the Danish ship holding the toxins is essentially just floating around at sea while the second batch of materials is gathered at the Syrian port. Once that batch is ready to depart, the Danish vessel will return to S yria, load it up, and make way for international waters, where the the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. vessel, will be waiting. A specially trained crew will then load the materials onto the Cape Ray and dispose of them using a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS), which was developed last year by the Pentagon to destroy chemical weapons in bulk. It’s never been used before in a real world situation.
While this is certainly good news, the situation in Syria is still quite horrific. Today, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that it’s no longer keeping track of how many people have been killed in the war, with the death toll having surpassed the 100,000 mark and reliable sources becoming harder and harder to come across. Ugh.
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