Rockets targeted Syria chemical weapons store: source

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Five rockets were fired at the main transit point for Syria's chemical weapons this month, with one landing near to where experts overseeing the destruction of the toxic stockpile were staying, sources said on Tuesday.

One rocket in the March 9 strike on the Mediterranean port town Latakia landed about 500 meters (yards)from the hotel used by the joint mission of the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission (OPCW), the sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Launched from several kilometers away, four of the rockets hit land and one fell in the sea, the sources said, citing a confidential report on the incident. The chemical transports were not hit.

"It was a bit too close for comfort," a UN-OPCW mission official said. "It was similar to earlier incidents in Damascus."

Inspectors from the OPCW were fired upon by snipers last autumn and mortar bombs landed near their hotel in the capital, but it was not clear if they had been targeted.

Syrian officials in The Hague did not respond to requests for comment on the latest attack.

Syria has blamed security for delays in shipping chemicals to Latakia, from where they are being loaded onto Scandinavian ships. Damascus received equipment from Russia and the United Nations, including armor for shipping containers.

Last month, Syria said there were two attempted attacks on convoys transporting chemical weapons and two storage sites remain inaccessible due to the war.

Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons program last year in a deal with Russia and the United States, but it is several months behind schedule and risks missing a final June 30 deadline.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has handed over roughly a third of 1,300 metric tons of chemicals declared to the OPCW, but has missed nearly every target date in the agreement.

By February 5 it was supposed to have handed over all toxic agents. Last week it missed a deadline to destroy a dozen production and storage facilities.

Syria was given until June 30 to completely eliminate its chemical weapons program, but has asked to be given until April 27, which would put the mission two-and-a-half months behind schedule. Western diplomats have so far rejected the request, the sources said.

The failure to meet deadlines could result in a report of non-compliance to the UN Security Council.

Diplomats in The Hague are reluctant to take such steps for fear of upsetting the fragile process of handing over the chemical weapons, which included sarin, mustard sulfur and other nerve agents.

(Reuters)

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