By Anthony Deutsch
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Syria has given up less than five percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The deliveries, in two shipments this month, to the northern Syrian port of Latakia totaled 4.1 percent of the roughly 1,300 metric tons of toxic agents reported by Damascus to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The internationally backed operation, overseen by a joint OPCW-United Nations mission, is now 6-8 weeks behind schedule. Damascus needs to show it is still serious about relinquishing its chemical weapons, the sources told Reuters.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council this week that shipments had been unnecessarily delayed and urged the government of President Bashar al-Assad to speed up the process.
That is the message that will be given to Syria's representative to the OPCW during its executive council meeting on Thursday in The Hague, where the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization is located, the sources said.
Under a deal agreed by Russia and the United States after an August 21 sarin gas attack, Syria vowed to give up its entire stockpile by mid-2014. The rocket attacks in the outskirts of Damascus killed hundreds, including women and children.
Syria, where civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions to flee, has blamed delays on security obstacles. It said the mission could not be safely carried out unless it received armored vehicles and communications equipment.
A source briefed on the situation said: "Yes, it's true there is a war, but have you ever heard of a civil war without security issues? They have all the necessary means they need for transportation. Now they need to start shipping the chemicals out."
Eradicating Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, including sarin, mustard gas and VX, requires massive foreign funding and logistical support.
The bulk of the most toxic substances are to be destroyed on the Cape Ray, a U.S. cargo ship now en route to the Mediterranean, which will be loaded with the chemicals at an Italian port. The remainder will go to several commercial waste processing facilities, including in Britain and Germany.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)