Syria on track to meet April deadline for chemical weapons disposal, OPCW says

Syria Map

(CNN) — Syria has destroyed a majority of its chemical weapons material, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Saturday.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has removed or destroyed in-country approximately 80 percent of its chemical weapons material,” according to the OPCW Executive Council.

The OPCW also said Saturday that the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now on track to complete the disposal of the country’s chemical weapons in the next few days. If that happens, Syria would meet the deadline set by the OPCW for the destruction of the weapons before the end of April.

“The renewed pace in movements is positive and necessary to ensure progress towards a tight deadline,” said Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the OPCW-U.N. Joint Mission in Damascus.

In March, Syria submitted to the OPCW a revised proposal for its chemical weapons disposal with a deadline at the end of April. That revised deadline proposal followed a February report by the OPCW that the country had shipped out just 11% of its weapons stockpile for disposal, falling far short of a February 5 deadline to have all such weapons removed.

The slow pace of removal prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to warn in January that all options remain available to force compliance.

Al-Assad agreed to get rid of all of Syria’s chemical weapons last fall to avoid a possible U.S. military strike against the regime.

Attacks in Syria claim at least 13 lives

As the country remains on track for disposal of its chemical weapons, the violence in the years-long civil war rages on.

Attacks in three cities Saturday killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more. A car bomb exploded in Hama Saturday, killing four people and injuring nine others, a source at Hama Police Command told SANA, Syria’s national news agency. The bomb targeted a convoy of four trucks carrying humanitarian aid workers with the Syrian Red Crescent organization.

Mortar shelling and rocket attacks on neighborhoods in Homs left six people dead and at least 40 others injured. A car bomb also exploded near a mosque in Homs Saturday, according to SANA. An unknown number of casualties are reported in that attack.

Three people were killed, including a 3-year-old child, and more than a dozen injured in mortar attacks on neighborhoods in Aleppo, according to SANA.

SANA is also reported attacks in Daraa and Damascus Saturday injured at least 24 people, including 14 children.

French journalists released

Four French journalists held hostage in Syria for the past 10 months are now on their way home. Journalists Edouard Elias, Didier Fran├žois, Nicolas Henin and Pierre Torres are in good health despite the tough conditions they endured during their captivity, the Elysee Palace said in a statement released Saturday. The men were taken hostage last June.

French President Francois Hollande learned of the journalists’ release with “great relief,” the statement said.

The Elysee Palace also said the men are on their way home to France.

Francois, a reporter, and Elias, a photographer, were on assignment in Syria for French radio station Europe 1 when they disappeared on June 6, 2013. They were en route to Aleppo and had already crossed the Turkish border into Syria when they vanished, according to the radio station.

Reporter Henin and photographer Torres were taken hostage a short time later, on June 22, the French Foreign Ministry said last October. Henin was working on assignment for Le Point magazine and the TV channel Arte, while Torres was there to cover municipal elections, the ministry said.

Syria was the most deadly nation in the world for journalists on the job in 2013. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported 29 journalists died covering the conflict there in 2013, including some who died in Lebanon or Turkey.

The report says more than 60 have died covering the war in Syria so far.

By Shelby Lin Erdman

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.