The top UN official charged with destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile on Monday warned that the most difficult part of its mission in the conflict-ridden country still lay ahead.
Speaking at an annual meeting of member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, Sigrid Kaag said although Syria's ability to make chemical weapons "has been rendered inoperable... the most complex and challenging work still lies ahead".
"The removal of Syria's chemical agents for destruction outside of its territory will require tremendous coordination and collective effort," Kaag told delegates at a five-day meeting of the 190 member states of the world's chemical watchdog.
A joint team of UN and OPCW inspectors have inspected all but one of Syria's chemical weapons-producing sites and the OPCW has said that Damascus' entire stockpile of more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons has been placed under seal.
Despite "significant milestones" already achieved by the joint UN-OPCW team, which has been in Syria since early October, challenges remained, Kaag told delegates.
The shifting security situation in Syria, where nearly 126,000 people have been killed since the brutal conflict broke out 33 months ago, was a major obstacle facing inspectors, she said.
The OPCW earlier this month adopted a final roadmap for ridding Syria of its arsenal of more than 1,000 tonnes of dangerous chemicals by mid-2014.
According to this roadmap, "priority" weapons have to be removed from Syria by December 31 and destroyed by the end of March 2014, and the rest by mid-2014.
The OPCW on Saturday said the US has offered to destroy Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons on a vessel at sea through a process of hydrolysis.
According to a US-Russia deal that headed off US military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, Syria is to destroy its chemical arsenal by mid-2014.