Last of Syria's chemical weapons shipped out

A sailor patrols the deck of a Norwegian Navy vessel used to transport chemical weapons out of Syria - 2 January 2014Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The operation to remove the chemical weapons from Syria was due to be completed at the end of June

The last of Syria's declared chemical weapons have been shipped out of the country for destruction, the international watchdog OPCW says.

"The ship has just left the port," the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, said in The Hague.

An investigation into alleged use of chlorine in Syria's civil war is still ongoing, Mr Uzumcu added.

More than 160,000 people have died in three years of the Syrian conflict.

The operation to completely destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile was meant to have been completed by 30 June but is now several months behind schedule.

Fighting and the threat of attack by rebel groups severely delayed the removal of the weapons, analysts say.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
There is an ongoing investigation into whether chlorine is being used as a weapon of war in Syria

The Syrian government approved the initiative last year after a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus left hundreds of people dead.

The US had threatened missile strikes on military sites in the country.

The final 8% of the 1,300-tonne stockpile was loaded on to ships in the Syrian port of Latakia on Monday, Mr Uzumcu said.

The chemical cargo is being shipped to a specially modified US naval vessel, the MV Cape Ray.

The destruction of the most toxic agents will take place on board, at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.

The remaining chemicals will be destroyed in Finland, the US and Britain.

Chlorine probe

However, the BBC's Anna Holligan says many military experts suspect President Bashar al-Assad may not have revealed the full extent of his chemical capabilities.

A recent OPCW fact finding mission concluded that chlorine gas is likely to have been used in "systematic attacks" in Syria.

Mr Uzumcu said the consequent investigation into use of chlorine, which is being jointly carried out with the UN, "may take a little more time."

Chlorine is an industrial chemical and was not part of the weapons stockpile that Syria agreed to hand over. However, use of it as a weapon would contravene conventions signed by President Assad.

Syria's chemical weapons

•21 August 2013: Chemical weapons attack in Ghouta region near Damascus

•14 September: US and Russia agree deal on destruction of Syria's chemical weapons

•31 December: Initial deadline for removal of most dangerous "Priority One" chemicals from Syria - missed

•4 February 2014: Initial deadline for removal of less hazardous "Priority Two" chemicals - missed

•27 April: Revised deadline for removal of all chemical stocks from Syria - missed

•30 June: Deadline for destruction of Syria's entire chemical arsenal - missed