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Four Norwegian and Danish vessels, which are due to ship hundreds of tonnes of deadly chemicals out of Syria, headed for international waters off the Syrian coast on Friday, a Norwegian military spokesman said.
The operation has missed its Dec. 31 target date but, Lars Magne Hovtun said, the ships have now left the Cypriot port of Limassol, about 160 miles (250 km) west of Latakia port where they are due to collect their chemical cargo.
"The four ships have now set a course toward a holding area in international water outside Syria, so we are most ready to enter the port of Latakia when the order arrives," he said.
The original deadline was missed because of poor weather, logistical delays and the conflict inside Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have fought to clear rebels from roads along which the chemicals will be transported.
At least 70 journalists were killed on the job around the world in 2013, including 29 who died covering the civil war in Syria and 10 slain in Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The dead in Syria included a number of citizen journalists working to document combat in their home cities, broadcasters who worked with media outlets affiliated with either the government or the opposition, and a handful of correspondents for the foreign press, including an Al-Jazeera reporter, Mohamed al-Mesalma, who was shot by a sniper.
Six journalists died in Egypt. Half of those reporters were killed while reporting an Aug. 14 crackdown by Egyptian security forces on demonstrators protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.
"The Middle East has become a killing field for journalists. While the number of journalists killed for their work has declined in some places, the civil war in Syria ?and a renewal of sectarian attacks in Iraq have taken an agonizing toll," the committee's deputy director, Robert Mahoney, said in a statement. "The international community must prevail on all governments and armed groups to respect the civilian status of reporters and to prosecute the killers of journalists."
The United Nations has warned of a disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria's Yarmouk Camp, a residential area home to Palestinian refugees and Syrians.
There are reports that five people have starved to death in the neighborhood.
Yarmouk has been a stronghold for opposition forces for more than a year. The UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees has called for an immediate humanitarian corridor to access the people trapped inside.
Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance. Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid. We have seen how powerful prayer is! And I am happy today too, that the followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for peace in Syria. Let us never lose the courage of prayer! The courage to say: Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world.
Syrian government forces and rebel fighters in a besieged Damascus suburb have agreed to a 48-hour truce that could result in food being allowed in for residents threatened with starvation, activists said on Thursday.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels occupied Mouadamiya last year and the government has been trying to win it back since with a siege that has choked off food, medicine and fuel.
Children have died from malnutrition in the town, and thousands of people face starvation. Some have resorted to eating leaves to survive.
The fragile ceasefire in Mouadamiya, six miles southwest of the capital, began on Wednesday with the raising of a government flag on the town's tallest building.
If the truce holds until Friday, the army has said it will allow food in.
The ceasefire is unlikely to be repeated in other parts of Syria where more radical rebel groups operate, but it raises the prospect of a respite from violence and hunger in one of the country's most hard-hit areas.
An activist close to the deal told Reuters negotiations had been conducted between the FSA military councils and local members of the government's military and political departments.
If the truce holds and the government provides access to food, the activist said, a broader agreement could be implemented which might include the rebels giving up heavy weapons.
"The regime said it wanted the heavy weapons like the tanks and cannons," he said. "It also said that it is willing to buy these weapons and pay for them," he added. "There are no guarantees from either side. This is war."
The U.K. will help the international mission to destroy chemicals from Syria's cache that have allegedly been used to build chemical weapons, officials said Friday, joining a complex operation with prominent roles for the U.S., Denmark and Norway.
Britain's Foreign Office said it has agreed to destroy 150 tons of two industrial-grade chemicals from Syria's stockpile at a commercial facility. The chemicals will be shipped to the U.K. before being transferred to a commercial site to be incinerated and destroyed, it said in a statement.
"It is important to stress that these are chemicals, not chemical weapons," the Foreign Office said, explaining that the two chemicals only become highly toxic when mixed together to make a nerve agent.
The commitment adds another layer to the complex and unprecedented operation to destroy Syria's chemical stockpile, which comes after the confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, which the U.S. government says killed 1,400 people.