First ship carrying chemical weapons leaves Syrian port of Latakia
The Danish ship left yesterday evening with nine containers of highly toxic material, and is now in international waters, with security enforced by Russian, Chinese, Syrian and Norwegian Navy vessels. The first shipment was supposed to leave by 31 December. Islamist rebels and extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant continue to fight each other in northern Syria.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - As war rages between the army of Bashar al-Assad, rebels and al-Qaeda in northern Syria, the plan to have the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations destroy Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles continues.

The first shipment carrying chemical material left the port of Latakia yesterday evening. The Danish ship will remain in international waters awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port. Maritime security is provided by naval escorts from China, Denmark, Norway and Russia.

The most lethal chemical agents stockpiled by the Syrian regime was supposed to leave the country before 31 December 2013, but Syria's worsening civil war, logistical problems and bad weather delayed the operation.

Although the Syrian government recently retook the highway linking Damascus to the coast, OPCW convoys continue to be vulnerable to attacks by opposition fighters.

The OPCW did not disclose what percentage of Syria's toxic arsenal - which totals 1,300 tonnes in all - had been removed but said nine containers of the most dangerous chemical materials were on the Danish cargo vessel.

The agreement signed in September by the Syrian regime with the OPCW under the supervision of the United States and Russia calls for the removal by June 2014 of all materials needed to manufacture weapons of mass destruction.

According to the plan, the chemicals will be taken from Latakia to a port in Italy where they will be transferred to a US Navy ship with specialised equipment for the destruction of chemical agents at sea.

Meanwhile in Aleppo and Idlib (northern Syria) fighting continues between Syrian Islamist rebels and extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 274 people have died in armed clashes.

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