Syria chemical arms removal 'back on track'

The transfer of Syria's chemical weapons out of the country under an international accord is back on schedule, a maritime task force in charge of the operation said Friday.

"After a period without loading and retrieval of chemical substances from Syria, the operation is still on schedule," public affairs officer Simen Rudi said in an email.

On April 4, "the security situation was considered good enough and eight new containers" were loaded onto Danish cargo ship Ark Futura in Syria's Mediterranean port city of Latakia, Rudi said.

Another seven containers were loaded on Thursday.

"This means that the operation is still on schedule, but the previously mentioned security situation will influence whether the operation is completed at the estimated time or not," he said.

On April 3, an international coordinator told the UN Security Council that Damascus can still meet a June deadline for eliminating its chemical weapons but must resume the stalled transfers.

Syria suspended the transfers for what it said were security reasons.

Sigrid Kaag, coordinator for the international operation, warned that any new delay would make it "increasingly challenging" to stick to the June 30 deadline, according to diplomats in New York.

Damascus agreed in September to give up its chemical weapons under a deal to ward off the threat of US air strikes.

The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that the West blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Kaag said last week that there were 72 containers filled with chemical weapons ready to be transferred out of the country.

Their removal would account for 90 percent of the country's stockpile, she said.

Syria, which has missed a number of key deadlines, has blamed the delays on a lack of security caused by its three-year-old civil war.

Its ally Russia noted Syria has given up more than half its arsenal and said regime forces protecting weapons convoys had been the target of attack north of Latakia.

Norwegian as well as Danish naval vessels are involved in the process of removing the materials, the most dangerous of which are to be transhipped to a US Navy vessel specially fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.