WASHINGTON – The Obama administration said Monday that it has finished destroying the lethal chemical agents that were removed from Syria after President Bashar Assad’s forces were accused of using poison gas against civilians a year ago this week.
In a statement, President Barack Obama hailed the joint civilian and military effort, which destroyed more than 600 tons of sarin and mustard agents, as “an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction.”
“Going forward, we will watch closely to see that Syria fulfills its commitment to destroy its remaining declared chemical weapons production facilities,” Obama said.
After nerve gas killed more than 1,000 people in rebel-held suburbs of east Damascus last Aug. 21, according to U.S. estimates, Assad agreed to surrender his poison gas arsenal and production equipment to international chemical weapons inspectors and thus avoid a threatened retaliatory attack by the U.S. military.
As Syria’s civil war continued to rage, the warheads were collected, trucked to a Syrian port and hauled aboard the Cape Ray, a 647-foot U.S. cargo ship. It was outfitted with two specially developed hydrolysis machines that use water or bleach to neutralize the chemicals that produce nerve gases. Once at sea, the machines eliminate 99.9 percent of the chemical agents, creating a liquid byproduct that is considered hazardous waste but has a low level of toxicity, according to U.S. officials.
Talks between Israel, Hamas extended
CAIRO – Egypt late Monday announced a 24-hour extension in talks between Israel and the Hamas militant group aimed at salvaging a long-term arrangement that would allow reconstruction of the Gaza Strip following a monthlong war that killed more than 2,000 people.
The announcement came just minutes before a temporary truce was set to expire at midnight, averting a resumption of the fighting that has caused devastating damage across Gaza and disrupted life throughout southern Israel.
A Palestinian negotiator said the sides had exchanged draft proposals for a long-term truce that were to be addressed during the 24-hour extension in talks.
Astronauts launch Peruvian nanosatellite
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Spacewalking astronauts launched a tiny Peruvian research satellite Monday, setting it loose on a mission to observe Earth.
Russian Oleg Artemiev cast the 4-inch box off with his gloved right hand as the International Space Station sailed 260 miles above the cloud-flecked planet. The nanosatellite gently tumbled as it cleared the vicinity of the orbiting complex, precisely as planned.
“One, two, three,” someone called out in Russian as Artemiev let go of the satellite.
Cameras watched as the nanosatellite – named Chasqui after the Inca messengers who were fleet of foot – increased its distance and grew smaller. Artemiev’s Russian spacewalking partner, Alexander Skvortsov, tried to keep his helmet camera aimed at the satellite as it floated away.
The satellite – barely 2 pounds – holds instruments to measure temperature and pressure, and cameras that will photograph Earth. It’s a technological learning experience for the National University of Engineering in Lima. A Russian cargo ship delivered the device earlier this year.