BASHAR al-Assad's regime has destroyed all its equipment for making chemical weapons, according to the latest findings of inspectors overseeing the operation.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the Syrian regime had met the second major deadline of a deal to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal in return for the US holding off from military intervention in the country's civil war.
"Syria has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable," a statement from the OPCW said.
The target date for this phase of the operation was November 1. The regime was set three phases under the deal forced on it by Russia after the chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs of East and West Ghouta in August that killed hundreds of people.
The first phase, a full declaration of its chemical weapons programme, was met by the last week in September. The final phase is the destruction of the chemical agents, a more complex task due to happen by next summer.
The main impediment is the continuing civil war. Two of the regime's 23 main chemical weapons sites could not be reached by inspectors because of the fighting, but they said their contents had already been moved elsewhere.
In addition, they said the already declared stocks of prepared chemicals, consisting of 1,000 tons of the most serious agents such as sarin and 290 of less serious "category two" agents, were now under tamper-proof OPCW seals.
The organisation said its inspectors had observed the destruction of the manufacturing processes.
The deal's many critics say it leaves Mr Assad in place and ignores the many more deaths attributable to non-chemical means.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from Britain, said yesterday that the number of dead had reached 120,000, half of them non-combatant.
They also question whether Mr Assad might be able to preserve some of his chemical weapons programme without declaring it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)