UK & World News

  • 20 December 2013, 17:24

Syria: Britain To Help Destroy Chemicals

Britain is to be involved in the international effort to destroy Bashar al Assad's illegal chemical weapons stockpile.

Under an international agreement brokered to avoid US military strikes on the Damascus regime, Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons have to be out of the country by a December 31 deadline.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: "The international mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons programme is essential to ensure that Assad can never again use these horrific weapons to murder his own people.

"The UK along with the US, Russia, China, Denmark, Norway and Finland will be playing its part in this mission over the coming weeks and months."

The UK has agreed to destroy 150 tons of two industrial-grade chemicals - which do not contain explosives - from the Syrian stockpile.

They will be shipped to a UK port before being transferred to a commercial site where they will be incinerated, the FCO said.

The Government stressed that "these are chemicals, not chemical weapons".

It said: "The chemicals, known as 'B precursors', are used in the pharmaceutical industry and are handled similarly to many other chemicals that are routinely manufactured, transported and destroyed in the UK.

"The chemicals only become highly toxic when mixed with an 'A precursor' to make a nerve agent.

"To eliminate this risk, the A and B precursors will be removed from Syria separately."

A Royal Navy vessel will also help Danish and Norwegian cargo ships in international waters during the removal of the entire chemical stockpile from Syria by sea.

"The UK is also providing specialist equipment to the US to assist with the hydrolysis of the most sensitive chemicals before their final destruction," the FCO said.

"These 'large access devices' will be used to move the chemicals between their storage units and the hydrolysis equipment."

Mr Assad has admitted his forces hold chemical weapons, and has vowed to surrender them to international experts, but insists his forces did not target civilians.

Last week, UN inspectors said chemical weapons were "probably used" five times in the Syrian conflict between March and late August in the districts of Ghouta, Khan al Asal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafieh Sahnaya.

However, the report does not attribute blame for the attacks, as this was beyond the mandate given to the team by the UN Security Council.

An initial report in September said there was "clear and convincing evidence" that rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in an attack on August 21 which killed hundreds of people.

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