Syria's failure to move part of its chemical weapons arsenal to a Mediterranean port has prompted warnings that the disarmament deal struck with the country is falling seriously behind schedule.
A Norwegian navy frigate sent to escort a convoy carrying Syria's mustard gas and sarin stockpile has said it has been advised to expect a substantial delay.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body in charge of the UN-backed plan to destroy 1,300 tonnes of Syria's chemical weapons, said it had put in place all the necessary "logistical and security" arrangements.
However, it added that tomorrow's deadline for the shipment of the weapons-grade munitions cannot be met and could only proceed if President Bashar al-Assad's government "intensified efforts" to move the material.
The deadline was the first key milestone under a UNSecurity Council-backed deal arranged by Russia and the US that aims to wipe out all of Syria's chemical arms by the middle of 2014.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government has evacuated 5,000 people from an embattled industrial town near Damascus where al-Qa'ida-linked rebels have been battling government troops for more than two weeks.
Opposition fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra swept into Adra northeast of the capital in mid-December, reportedly killing civilians. Both minority communities largely support President Bashar Assad against the primarily Sunni-led rebellion.
Shortly after the rebels pushed into Adra, Syrian soldiers surrounded the area and there has been heavy fighting there since.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)