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Syria Again Misses Chemical Weapons Deadline

Alex Finkelstein

Nearly 93 percent of Syria’s chemical arsenal has been removed according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report released late last week. However, Syria missed an April 27 deadline (already delayed from February) to disarm their chemical weapons. Additionally, new reports indicate that the embattled Syrian government is employing chlorine gas in attacks on civilians; a chemical omitted from the 2013 deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia.

An OPCW official stated that all of the remaining supply is held at only one undisclosed site, in a contested area between the Syrian government and rebel forces. Even so, the disarmament organization still expects Damascus to uphold their commitment to remove all chemical weapons and and ensure their destruction by June 30.

A photo taken by a Syrian citizen journalist shows a U.N. weapons inspector collecting samples at Ain Terma, near Damascus, last year. (Source: NBC News)

Under the agreement Syria is also expected to destroy chemical weapons production facilities, but what exactly this entails is in dispute. Damascus would like to simply seal off 12 facilities that they claim to have rendered inoperable, while others want to see them destroyed completely. The OPCW executive council has placed the facilities under review to ultimately decide the issue.

While Asad has been compliant in turning over most of his declared chemical weapons stockpile, that has not stopped him from turning to other sources to brutally attack his own people. Rebel activists, and more recently Western officials, have accused the government of using chlorine gas against civilians in the city of Kfar Zeita, 125 miles north of Damascus. The Syrian army used helicopters to drop barrel bombs full of chlorine on residential areas.

Using any toxic substance for military purposes would violate the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Syria is already a signatory. However, the U.S. and Russia failed to include chlorine gas in the disarmament agreement brokered with Asad. Chlorine is commonly used for civilian purposes and considered less lethal when compared to weaponized Sarin or Mustard gas. But, such nuances are likely lost on the terrorized civilians affected by Asad’s chemicals and other crude weapons.