The international chemical weapons watchdog organization reported Thursday that the Syrian government has destroyed all its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting the first major deadline set out in an agreement brokered by the American and Russian governments.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that it was "satisfied it has verified, and seen destroyed, all declared critical production/mixing/filling equipment from all 23 sites." Inspectors said earlier this week that they had only been able to personally visit 21 of the 23 sites due to safety concerns, but the organization reported that the equipment from those sites had been moved to locations where inspectors had visited.
The OPCW also said in a statement "no further inspection activities are currently planned."
Destruction of the equipment means that Syria can no longer produce new chemical weapons. However Damascus still has to start destroying existing weapons and stockpiles. The country is believed to have around 1,000 metric tons of chemicals and weapons including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin.
Under the terms of the agreement reached in September between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Syria, the government of Bashar al-Assad had until November 1 to make all chemical weapons production and filling facilities unusable. The Syrian government has until mid-2014 to destroy its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. Syria has submitted a plan for the total destruction of its chemical weapons that has to be approved next month by the OPCW's executive committee.
The agreement was reached after the U.S. backed off a threat to use force in response to an alleged chemical attack on August 21 by the Syrian army against rebel fighters in the eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus. The U.S., Great Britain, and France all say that Assad was responsible for the attack. The Syria leader, backed by his Russian ally, has blamed rebel forces for the attack, in which hundreds of people were killed.
In a further sign of progress in the mission, a group of eight OPCW inspectors returned to the organization's headquarters Thursday.
"On behalf of the OPCW, I thank you and all of our colleagues from the Joint OPCW-UN Mission who remain in Syria for your outstanding service," Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in comments released by the OPCW. "I salute the fortitude and courage you've all demonstrated in fulfilling the most challenging mission ever undertaken by this organization."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.