The government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad missed a New Year’s Eve deadline to ship some of the deadliest chemicals in its weapons arsenal out of the country, in violation of a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia last summer.
A representative from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons cited security concerns and technical delays in a Monday interview with Reuters. Assad’s government is responsible for securing the weapons en route to the country’s principal port of Latakia and in Latakia itself – where more than 20 tons of mustard nerve gas was scheduled to leave the country for destruction abroad on Tuesday.
Complicating efforts to secure and transport the country’s chemical weapons arsenal is the nearly three-year-old civil war raging within Syria’s borders, which is responsible for the death of more than 130,000 citizens and the displacement of more than two million refugees.
Western nations maintain that Assad’s forces used sarin nerve gas against civilians, killing 1,400 in a Aug. 21 attack. Staying the threat of military strikes against government strongholds by the U.S., President Obama brokered an eleventh-hour deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Assad to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by June 2014.
The pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army, which denies any formal association with the government, launched a series of cyber-attacks on Skype’s blog page and Facebook and Twitter accounts on Wednesday criticizing Microsoft for “monitoring…accounts and selling the data to the government,” a reference to the NSA spying activity reported in 2013.
The group claimed responsibility for hacking accounts belonging to the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, the Washington Post and others last year.
A U.S. cargo ship in Virginia is being readied for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in international waters. Aboard the ship is a system that could neutralize more than two dozen tons of chemicals a day using water and bleaching compounds, according to the Associated Press.