Syria chemical weapons: Delay claims denied by regime

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad says Syria is "committed to all its agreements"

Syria says international accusations that it is delaying the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile are "absolutely unjustified".

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad told the BBC "Syria is doing its best" to comply with the timetable to destroy its chemical weapons.

Syria missed Wednesday's deadline to hand over its entire stockpile.

Mr Mekdad said a shipment of weapons came under attack twice on its way from Damascus to the port of Latakia.

"We shipped two shipments to the Syrian coast," he said. "The second shipment was intercepted by fire from terrorist groups."

He added: "This is a serious business. Syria is in war, and the Americans and others have to take this into consideration."

He described as "absolutely unacceptable" US Secretary of State John Kerry's recent condemnation of the government's use of barrel bombs in the city of Aleppo.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims 246 people, including 73 children, have been killed in Aleppo in the last five days alone after barrels containing explosives and metal fragments were dropped by military helicopters.

Activist group The Aleppo Media Centre claims 14 people were killed in barrel bomb attacks on the Masaken Hanano district on Thursday, citing footage appearing to show bombs being dropped from a helicopter onto a civilian area.

"We are defending our people against terrorist attacks. We have never bombarded places with civilians," Mr Mekdad insisted, accusing the US of "still supporting terrorist elements" in the country.

A resident searches through rubble at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by the Syrian military during a previous attack Barrel bombs, like the one allegedly used in this attack in Aleppo recently, have become a common feature of the Syrian conflict
Prison break

The Syrian government, via state media, also denied reports that rebels had seized most of Aleppo's central prison.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said members of the Islamic Front coalition, dominated by the Ahrar al-Sham brigade and the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, mounted the assault, freeing hundreds of detainees.

But state television insisted soldiers and security forces had "thwarted an attack against the prison by terrorist groups".

The Observatory says fighting is still going on, but the Ahrar al-Sham brigade and the Aleppo Media Centre, a citizen-journalist outlet, say rebels now completely control the prison.

It is reported to hold at least 3,000 detainees, including Islamists, activists and minors, in horrific conditions.

Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad in Latakia Norway and Denmark are providing transport to take the weapons from the port of Latakia
'Committed'

Syria has about 1,300 tonnes of declared chemical weapons.

The US said last week that so far only about 4% of the stockpile - 30 tonnes - had left the country.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was "concerned" that the UN-backed plan was falling behind schedule and said Damascus "had to take responsibility for fulfilling its commitment".

Russia - a key ally of Syria - has said Damascus should complete the transfer of its chemical weapons to the coast for removal by ship by 1 March.

A deadline was set last year for all the weapons to be destroyed by the end of June.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is overseeing the destruction operation, has admitted the process has been slowed down by security concerns.

Mr Mekdad stressed: "Syria is committed to all its agreements, with the OPCW and the UN Security Council. We shall implement on time all our obligations."

Map showing the route of Syria's chemical weapons
  • 1. The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from 12 sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
  • 2. Russia is providing security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment. China has sent 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras, and Finland an emergency response team in case of accidents.
  • 3. Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take the chemicals to the container port of Gioia Tauro in Italy. Russia and China are also providing naval escorts and the first consignment of 16 tonnes left Latakia on 7 January.
  • 4. In Italy, the "most critical" chemical agents will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Less-toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.

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