NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Syria finished handing over to Western powers Monday the 1,300 tons of chemical weapons it acknowledged possessing, completing a deal reached last fall under threat of U.S. airstrikes.
The most dangerous material will be transferred to an American ship, which will move into international waters and use specialized equipment to destroy the chemicals over the next two months.
Other material will be disposed of at toxic waste sites in various countries.
Questions persist over whether Syrian President Bashar Assad is hiding undeclared poison gases or attacking rebels with chlorine -- a toxic industrial gas that is not specifically classified as a chemical weapon.
But politicians and activists hailed Monday's milestone as a victory for international diplomacy, and, at the least, a clear reduction in the amount of chemicals available for use in Syria's bloody civil war.
The news came amid extremely high tension across the Middle East, as Israel carried out retaliatory strikes on Syria and a Syrian cabinet member warned that Sunni insurgents in Iraq have been funneling weapons to rebels in Syria. The material handed over by Syria included mustard gas and precursors to the nerve gas sarin.
Syria agreed to surrender its arsenal when the U.S. threatened missile strikes in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The attack is believed to have killed more than 1,000 people.
The deal was put together by the United States and Russia, which has been Assad's most powerful international backer during the war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog agency overseeing Syria's disarmament, confirmed that the final 100 tons of chemicals had been loaded onto a Danish ship in the Syrian port of Latakia.
Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, acknowledged that Syria could still be hiding some of its arsenal.
"I can't say ... that Syria doesn't have any chemical weapons anymore," Uzumcu said.
But he said that that was true of any country that his organization works with. And he added that Syria's declared arsenal was close to estimates made by outside experts.
He described the Syrian government's overall cooperation as "satisfactory."