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Official: Syria destroys chemical arms equipment

– An official at the global chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday Syria has completed destruction of critical equipment for producing chemical weapons and filling munitions with poison gas.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had not yet made the announcement public.

The announcement comes one day ahead of the Nov. 1 deadline set by the Hague-based organization for Damascus to destroy or “render inoperable” all chemical weapon production facilities and machinery for mixing chemicals into poison gas and filling munitions.

Destruction of the equipment means that Syria can no longer produce new chemical weapons. However Damascus still has to start destroying existing weapons and stockpiles. The country is believed to have around 1,000 metric tons of chemicals and weapons including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin.

Completion of the initial stage of destruction, overseen by a joint United Nations-OPCW team in Syria, is a significant milestone in an ambitious timeline that aims to destroy all of Damascus’ chemical weapons by mid-2014.

Inspectors said earlier this week they had completed their first round of verification work, visiting 21 of 23 sites declared by Damascus. Inspectors were unable to visit two sites because of security concerns, underscoring the risky nature of a mission to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal in the midst of an ongoing civil war.

Syria has submitted a plan for the total destruction of its chemical weapons that has to be approved next month by the OPCW’s executive committee.

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