World Bulletin / News Desk
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have taken control of a highway connecting Damascus to the coast that is needed to extract hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals for destruction, a monitoring group said on Monday.
Fighting in Syria poses a hurdle to implementing an agreement between Damascus and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to remove the deadliest chemicals weapons by the end of the year to be destroyed.
The army started an offensive in mid-November to secure the highway, which passes through the mountainous area of Qalamoun, roughly 50 km (30 miles) north of Damascus, stretches along the Lebanese border and hosts many military bases and outposts.
The army has retaken the highway towns of Qara and Deir Attiyah from rebels fighting to oust Assad, and has made inroads around the town of Nabak close to the road.
"The road is open but not safe," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, adding that it remained vulnerable to rebel attack.
Manar television, run by Lebanon's Hezbollah group and which has reporters embedded with the Syrian army, cited Syrian security sources as saying the highway was now secure.
Rebels in the area did not respond to calls for comment.
The government has never acknowledged that it did not fully control the road, a north-south artery that also links Damascus with the coastal stronghold of Assad's sect.
Syria has agreed under a deal arranged by the United States and Russia to dismantle its chemical arsenal and destroy all its 1,300 tons of sarin, mustard gas and other lethal agents.
The size of the stockpile, including 800 tons of industrial chemicals destined for incineration at commercial toxic waste plants, means it can only be transported by land and sea - using roads linkingDamascus to the Mediterranean port of Latakia.Güncelleme Tarihi: 09 Aralık 2013, 15:19