Italy makes assurances over Syrian chemicals

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The Italian port of Gioia Tauro, in the southern region of Calabria, a site that will be used to transfer Syrian chemical weapons. Photo: AFP/Alfonso Di Vicenzo
09:58 CET+01:00
The Italian government on Friday moved to reassure concerned citizens over a shipment of deadly Syrian chemical agents slated for destruction which is due to arrive in the southern port of Gioia Tauro within weeks.

Letta has called a meeting with the governor of the Calabria region where Gioia Tauro is located, along with two local mayors and port authorities to detail the operation, the government said in a statement.

A spokesperson said the meeting was planned for Monday.

Following an uproar over the choice of port for the trans-loading operation onto a US ship, which was announced on Thursday, governor Giuseppe Scopelliti said he was faced with the risk of a "civil war".

But the government said the 60 containers expected fell under a category of dangerous substances that Gioia Tauro has already handled without any problems.

The statement said 3,048 containers with the same classification of toxic substances had transited through Gioia Tauro between 2012 and 2013.

"The trans-loading can be carried out in a timeline of between 10 and 24 hours," it said, although the UN-linked world chemical watchdog overseeing the operation has said it could last up to 48 hours.

The US ship, the MV Cape Ray, is still in the United States and is due to depart for Italy this or next week to pick up the chemical agents and destroy them in international waters using hydrolysis equipment.

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The materials are the deadliest in Syria's 1,290-tonne declared chemical arsenal and include mustard gas and the ingredients for the nerve agents sarin and VX.

The arsenal is planned to be destroyed by June 30.

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