Twenty trucks laden with equipment used in the manufacture of chemical weapons were driven across the border from Syria into Iraq on Thursday and Friday, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal reported on Sunday.
The trucks were “heavily protected” by security forces, and were not inspected by border guards, the paper reported, adding that its sources confirmed the illicit cargo.
There was no confirmation of the report in Al-Mustaqbal, a newspaper associated with groups opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Sunday’s report came amid ongoing claims by the leader of the Free Syrian Army, Salim Idriss, that Assad was busy hiding his chemical weapons so that, when UN inspectors arrive to record and ultimately oversee the destruction of his stockpiles, a sizable amount of his WMD stocks will not be affected.
In interviews over the weekend, Idriss insisted his group had accurate information that Assad was sending some chemical weapons to Lebanon and Iraq, and more to “dozens of sites” across Syria to torpedo any attempt at international inspection and destruction of the stockpiles, as mandated by Saturday’s US-Russia agreement.
A CNN report on Thursday also quoted Idriss claiming that the Syrian government had begun moving its chemical weapons stockpiles to Lebanon and Iraq.
Baghdad rejected Idriss’s claim, and Israeli officials who spoke to the news outlet said they had no indication that Assad had moved the WMDs to Lebanon or Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal last week also cited “American and Middle Eastern officials” as saying that the Syrian military unit running Assad’s chemical weapons program was scattering the regime’s stockpiles to as many as 50 sites across the country to confound American efforts to track them.
“The movements of chemical weapons by Syria’s elite Unit 450 could complicate any US bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks,” the paper wrote, citing officials. “It also raises questions about implementation of a Russian proposal that calls for the regime to surrender control of its stockpile.”
According to US officials, American and Israeli officials are confident that they can still identify the locations of Assad’s chemical weapons sites, “but with less confidence than six months ago,” the paper wrote.
Another Syrian rebel leader said last Friday that the Assad regime has transferred chemical weapons to the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah.
According to a report in Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan newspaper, Syrian National Coalition member Kamal al-Labwani said the rebels obtained documents and testimony from a defector from one of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons research centers that indicate Assad transferred roughly one metric ton of VX nerve gas to its ally, Hezbollah.
Al-Labwani told al-Watan that he forwarded documentary proof of his claim to the US Embassy in Jordan and British intelligence in Doha. The al-Watan report could not be independently confirmed.
Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Hezbollah’s acquisition of sophisticated weaponry, including chemical weapons. In January, Israeli fighter jets carried out an airstrike near a chemical weapons facility outside Damascus. US officials said the Israelis struck the military research center and a convoy next to it, which was carrying anti-aircraft weapons destined for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Western intelligence estimates that the Assad regime possesses roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical and biological weapons.