BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria shipped out a third consignment of chemical weapons materials on Monday and has also destroyed some materials on its territory, the international mission overseeing the elimination of its chemical arsenal said.
Syria has already slipped more than a month behind schedule for the removal of its chemical weapons, agreed after a chemical weapons attack in Damascus six months ago. Western diplomats said the Syrians would need to make a shipment every two days to get back on schedule.
Western powers blame President Bashar al-Assad's forces for the August gas attack, which killed hundreds of people, but the government says rebels battling to overthrow him were responsible.
The joint mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Monday's consignment had been loaded on board a Norwegian cargo vessel, accompanied by a naval escort of Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian vessels.
It did not detail the quantity of material shipped out or destroyed. Until Monday's announcement, barely 4 percent of Syria's declared 1,300 tonne stockpile had been removed.
"The Joint Mission confirms that in-country destruction of some chemical materials has taken place alongside the removal of chemical weapons material, and welcomes progress to date," it said.
"The Syrian Arab Republic is encouraged to expedite systematic, predictable and high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials."
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Giles Elgood)