Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 34

Germany began incinerating neutralized Syrian chemical agents and precursor chemicals at a special military toxic waste destruction site in Munster, not far from Hamburg, on Wednesday, September 10. This toxic liquid material originated from the American ship, Cape Ray, where a precursor chemical, DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride) and mustard agent were neutralized in the Mediterranean. A total of 23 containers were brought to GEKA, the company responsible for the incineration process, last week. They contain about 400 MTs of the neutralized mustard agent; the neutralized DF, some 5-6000 MTs, had been delivered earlier to Finland for incineration. The Lower Saxony Environment Ministry stated, “the process will continue [for] about five months. At the end of this process, the remaining two to three tons of salt will be stored at a special site in Thüringen [located in the central part of the country].” In addition it mentioned that the OPCW will be monitoring the process.

The OPCW reported that its fact-finding mission recently sent to Syria, based on dozens of interviews with victims, doctors, and witnesses, has concluded that chlorine has “systematically and repeatedly” been used in attacks in villages in northern Syria. These villages include Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zeta. The mission attempted to visit Kafr Zeta, however was unable to reach the location and gather on-site evidence as the convoy was attacked and forced to return.

This report, the second of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) does not assign blame to these attacks but simply summarizes the findings of the mission. It states that “the descriptions, physical properties, behavior of the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the response of patients to the treatment, leads the FFM to conclude with a high degree of confidence that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question.”

This second FFM report, published September 10, 2014, further states: “Following the establishment of the FFM in late April, there was a marked reduction in allegations, especially in the months of May, June and July. However, during the month of August there was a spate of new allegations, with accounts of the incidents bearing strong resemblance to those that are now confirmed as having been chlorine attacks.” (The first FFM report was published June 16, 2014.)

Consequently the Director General Ahmet Üzümcü, has asked that the fact finding mission continue its work to better understand and document the reported attacks on innocent civilians in Syria by unknown assailants with chlorine. Despite all this tragic news of repeated chemical attacks, it cannot be forgotten that much progress that has been made this summer in safely eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program. As of September 8, a total of 96.7% (1,264.9MT of 1,309.8 MT) of Syrian chemical agents and precursors have been destroyed. This includes 100% of Category 1 (1,047 MT) and 83.5% (217.9MT of the 261 MT) of Category 2. The most dangerous weapons declared by the Syrian regime have been and continue to be successfully destroyed thanks to a remarkably successful international effort. And OPCW experts are currently in Syria finalizing plans and contracts for timely destruction of Syria’s twelve declared former CW production facilities.