Relief in western capitals as Syria's chemical weapon equipment is destroyed

Women take part in a protest against intervention in Syria. The threat of western involvement faded after a Commons vote.
Women take part in a protest against intervention in Syria. The threat of western involvement faded after a Commons vote.
Ian Dunt By

There was celebration in London, Paris and Washington today, after it was reported that all Syria's chemical weapon production equipment had been destroyed.

The report from the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) suggests that the threat of western powers being dragged into the Syrian civil war has passed.

The document found chemical weapons production and mixing facilities had all been destroyed in time to meet a deadline set for tomorrow.

The organisation said it had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country. The other two were too dangerous to visit but the chemical equipment there had already been moved to other locations.

"The OPCW is satisfied it has verified, and seen destroyed, all declared critical production/mixing/filling equipment from all 23 sites," the document said.

The announcement does not end the process. There are still tonnes of precursors - materials used in chemical weapon production - which must be destroyed by half way through next year.

Britain, France and the US were forced to consider intervening in the protracted conflict after credible reports emerged of president Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against rebel-held territories to the west and east of Damascus.

Highly upsetting videos were posted online showing men, women and children seemingly suffering the effects of chemical weapons.

The use of chemical weapons crossed the 'red line' put forward by US president Barack Obama, and triggered a rush to war that was only stopped when the Commons voted against a motion backing the principle of intervention.

The dramatic late night vote saw relations between David Cameron and Ed Miliband hit rock bottom, but it also prompted Obama to pursue a similar vote in Washington.

That vote became less significant after US secretary of state John Kerry accidently suggested that conflict could be avoided if Syria destroyed its chemical weapons during a press conference in London.

That triggered a proactive response from Russia, which helped organise negotiations between Damascus and Washington.

Today's news suggests the threat of western intervention has now faded away, but reports from the region show the appalling humanitarian crisis has not.

Yesterday, the World Health Organisation confirmed that there had been an outbreak of polio, with ten cases found and another 12 being investigated.

The return of the childhood disease horrified medical observers, with the UN reporting that 500,000 children in the country have not been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International warned that hundreds of refugees have been turned away from Jordan while others – particularly men with no family in the country – are being removed back to Syria.

Any closing of the borders to Syria by its neighbours could trigger an even worse humanitarian crisis.

Two million refugees have now fled Syria to countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. It is the largest migration crisis since the Second World War.


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