Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 54

The first of twelve declared chemical weapon production and storage facilities in Syria has now been destroyed. This was announced on Tuesday, February 3rd, after the destruction of the underground site was completed on January 31st. Director General of the OPCW Ahmet Üzümcü “welcome[d] the destruction of the first facility which had been delayed due to some technical reasons.” He is “hopeful that remaining destruction activities will proceed according to the plan.”

At that point, the destruction of the chemical weapons declared by Syria reached 98 per cent, with only 29 metric tonnes of hydrogen fluoride remaining to be destroyed at facilities in the UK and the USA. The toxic effluent from the destruction of the sulphur mustard and sarin gas precursor chemicals, neutralized aboard the US ship Cape Ray this past summer, continued to be burned in facilities in Germany and Finland. So far 63 per cent of the sulphur effluents and 52 per cent of the sarin precursor effluents have been destroyed.

During a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council on Wednesday, February 4th, a decision was adopted concerning the outcome of the latest Fact Finding Mission (FFM) report. The Council reiterated its condemnation of the use of chemical weapons, by anyone, under any circumstances. The decision expressed serious concern regarding the findings of the Fact Finding Mission, which had issued its third report investigating use of chlorine in Syria on December 18, 2014. The OPCW team, under the direction of Malik Ellahi, interviewed both victims and medical personnel in and around three areas – Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita, where all interviewees reported barrel bombs being dropped from helicopters between April and August, 2014. The Executive Council, after some contentious discussion, agreed to continue the OPCW investigations in Syria.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat stated in its introduction to the third FFM report that “[t]he Mission has presented its conclusions with a high degree of confidence that chlorine has been used as a weapon. The work of the Mission has remained consistent with its mandate, which did not include the question of attributing responsibility for the alleged use.” The first two FFM reports were issued on June 16, 2014 and September 10, 2014.