UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the mission charged with destroying Syria's chemical weapons said Thursday the last 16 containers of dangerous chemical agents awaiting transport out of the country are in a contested area not far from Damascus that is currently inaccessible.
Sigrid Kaag appealed to countries with influence on armed groups fighting in Syria to help arrange unfettered access for experts to the site and safe transport for the chemicals to the port of Latakia, where Danish and Norwegian ships are waiting to take the containers to a U.S. vessel for destruction.
She told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council that it's not possible at the moment to arrange a cease-fire so authorities can get to the site where five containers of the most dangerous chemicals used to make poison gas and nerve agents and 11 containers of less toxic chemicals — representing 8 percent of Syria's declared stockpile — are awaiting removal.
Kaag said two other sites in the vicinity have been taken over by armed opposition groups and it's currently impossible to reach the roads to Site 2, the location of the 16 containers.
It's very difficult to determine "which armed opposition are operating where," she said. "It's very diffuse. There are many alliances ... It's shifting ground on a daily basis."
Kaag, who heads a joint mission of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said experts are now looking at other ways to get to the site to prepare for the last convoy so it can move quickly when the security situation improves.
"It's a matter of less than a working week in its totality" to get the 16 containers on to the ships, she said.
This would allow Syrian authorities "to stay as close to the June 30 deadline as possible" for the total elimination of its chemical weapons, she said.
Kaag said one question raised by many council members at the closed meeting was the status of the investigation the Security Council called for into reports of alleged chlorine gas use in some Syrian towns, causing deaths and injuries.
Kaag said a delegation from the OPCW, which monitors implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention which Syria signed last year, is now in Damascus on a fact-finding mission.
In response to a request from the OPCW, she said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has authorized the U.N. to provide logistical and security assistance for the delegation.
Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador Peter Wilson told reporters the allegations of chlorine gas use "are very serious" and "it is extremely important that the OPCW investigates those allegations."
The government and opposition have denied using chlorine, which is not a banned chemical subject to destruction.
At the council meeting, diplomats said other issues were also raised, including whether Syria has declared all its chemical agents, its failure to destroy 12 facilities that produced chemicals, whether the June 30 deadline can realistically be met, and whether the joint mission will end its work on that date. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.
Wilson said Britain believes that "until we have complete confidence that the chemical weapons have been removed from use in Syria the joint mission still has work to do."