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US begins destroying Syrian chemical agents at sea
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 07, 2014

The US cargo ship MV Cape Ray arrives in the port of Gioia Tauro, southern Italy, early on July 1, 2014, as it waits for the arrival of the ARK FUTURE ship from Syria to load Syrian chemical weapons materials to be destroyed. Once the weapons and chemical materials are on board, the Cape Ray will head "for international waters to begin neutralization of the chemical agents" at sea, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. Syria has shipped out 1,300 tons of chemical agents. Only the most dangerous elements -- dubbed "priority 1" and used in mustard gas and Sarin -- will be destroyed on board the US ship. Image courtesy AFP.

Syria planes strike inside Lebanon near border town
Beirut (AFP) July 06, 2014 - Syrian warplanes bombed gunmen inside Lebanese territory on Sunday on the border between the two countries, Lebanon's official National News Agency reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

"Syrian warplanes targeted groups of gunmen in the Wadi al-Khayl area in Arsal firing four rockets," the news agency said.

Shortly afterwards, Syrian aircraft carried out two further raids in the same area, it added.

The Lebanese army confirmed air strikes in "border areas" but made no mention of their target.

The town of Arsal and the area around it are largely Sunni Muslim, and residents sympathise with the Sunni-led uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The border is long and porous, and has proved an easy crossing point for smugglers, refugees and fighters.

In April, Syrian forces backed by allied fighters from the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah retook control of most of the Qalamun region, just across the border from Arsal.

But Syrian activists say hundreds of opposition fighters have taken refuge in the caves and hills in the border area, using it as a rear base from which to launch attacks inside Syria.

Wounded fighters are also brought to the area, and food, medicines and weapons are smuggled through it, activists say.

Two weeks ago, Lebanese army forces carried out raids in the area targeting militants with ties to "terrorist groups," an army statement said.

A US naval crew has begun work to "neutralize" Syria's chemical weapons on a vessel in the Mediterranean, an unprecedented operation expected to take about two months, the Pentagon said Monday.

The MV Cape Ray, which is outfitted with portable hydrolysis machinery, launched the effort after having loaded on board 600 metric tonnes of chemical agents at an Italian port on July 2, spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

"We expect neutralization to take approximately 60 days," Warren said.

The pace of the work would depend in part on the weather and conditions at sea, he said.

After breaking down the lethal chemicals to a sludge equivalent to industrial waste, the byproducts will be transported to Finland and Germany for final disposal, he said.

Syria handed over sulfur mustard and a precursor to make Sarin gas under the terms of a UN-backed and US-Russia brokered agreement to head off Western air strikes against the regime last year.

The deal came after global outrage over chemical attacks by Bashar al-Assad's regime in the suburbs of Damascus on August 23 last year, which may have killed as many as 1,400 people.

The ground-breaking arrangement to neutralize the chemicals at sea was agreed because no country was ready to host an operation to destroy the agents.

A Danish ship initially picked up the chemical agents and delivered them to the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro, amid tight security.

The Pentagon said the Cape Ray is carrying out the work in international waters in the Mediterranean but would not disclose details of the ship's location.

US officials have insisted the operation will not pose a serious risk to the environment and that elaborate precautions have been undertaken.

The 650-foot (197.5 meter) US cargo ship has a crew of 35 civilians operating the vessel and a 63-member team in charge of the hydrolysis units, as well as a security team on board.

The hydrolysis machines mix heated water and other chemicals to break down the lethal agents into toxic materials that pose less of a danger.


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