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Ongoing conflict slows chemical weapons shipments out of Syria

January 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Chemical weapons are finally being shipped out of Syria. But getting the stockpile of raw materials for poison gas and nerve agents destroyed has proven to be a uniquely complicated challenge.

Even as chemical weapons leave Syria, the deadly conventional war continues. Outside Damascus today, men rushed to rescue children trapped in rubble after an airstrike blasted a house. More explosions in Latakia province, where military helicopters buzzed overhead, dropping possible barrel bombs. Miles away, in the port city of the same name, chemical weapon ingredients are arriving from across the country, brought by Russian armored vehicles.

But fighting has slowed the shipments, which were supposed to begin last month. A Danish ship finally departed yesterday with the first batch, nine containers believed to hold about 700 metric tons of precursors for creating mustard and sarin gas.

MICHAEL LUHAN, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: We’re happy to see that there is finally movement.

GWEN IFILL: Today, the group overseeing the effort, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, noting the delay, urged the Syrian regime to pick up the pace.

MICHAEL LUHAN: Certainly, we are exhorting the Syrian government to intensify its efforts, so that we can conclude this critical part of this mission absolutely as fast as the conditions allow.

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GWEN IFILL: Under a U.N. plan, naval vessels from a number of countries will escort the chemical agents to an undisclosed port in Italy. There, they will be transferred to a U.S. Navy ship, the Cape Ray. It’s been outfitted with a special chamber that heats chemical agents and renders them inert.

The U.N. has given Syria until the end of June to destroy its chemical arsenal and everything associated with it.