Syria provides first details of its chemical weapons

Syria provides first details of its chemical weapons

Hague-based watchdog confirms, 'We have received part of the verification and we expect more'

This image made from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows a student wearing a gas mask and protective suit during a classroom session on how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP)
This image made from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows a student wearing a gas mask and protective suit during a classroom session on how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, Syria (photo credit: AP)

Syria reportedly submitted details of its chemical weapons arsenal to a Hague-based watchdog on Friday.

“We have received part of the verification and we expect more,” a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said, according to Reuters.

A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the transfer of information, saying, “It’s quite long … and being translated.”

Syria is believed to possess around 1,000 tons of chemical toxins, and has agreed to destroy them under a joint Russian-US proposal designed to avert a US military strike.

Earlier this week, a Saudi newspaper published a report based on Syrian opposition sources that the Assad regime is smuggling chemical weapons to Hezbollah through tunnels connecting Syrian and Lebanese villages.

According to the Wednesday report in the Al-Watan daily, the move is part of a drive by the regime to remove its chemical weapons stockpiles from Syrian territory before the arrival of international observers as part of the Russia-US agreement aimed at stripping Syria of its non-conventional arms.

The Al-Watan report could not be confirmed by other sources and appeared in a Saudi establishment daily staunchly supportive of the Syrian opposition, which has called for a Western military strike against Syria.

The regime has chosen three destinations for its weapons, the daily claimed: Iraq, under the supervision of Iran’s Al-Quds Force and with the agreement of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki; Hezbollah in Lebanon; and Russian warships docked in Syria. Previously, the transfer of the internationally banned weapons was undertaken using vegetable trucks, Al-Watan reported.

Salim Idris, the commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army, has claimed numerous times over the past week that the Assad regime is busy hiding its chemical weapons in Lebanon, Iraq and in multiple locations throughout Syria.

On Monday, Free Syrian Army spokesman Fahed Al-Masri claimed that the Assad regime completed two transfers of chemical weapons to Hezbollah three months ago, storing the weapons in four locations in northern and central Lebanon.

“We have video recordings and irrefutable documents proving the truth of this,” Al-Masri said.

However, Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, head of IDF Northern Command, said Wednesday that Israel now believes Hezbollah does not want Assad’s chemical weapons.

Speaking to Yedioth Ahronoth, Golan said that in exchange for sending troops to help Assad against the rebels, Hezbollah requested advanced munitions such as anti-aircraft and ground-to-ground missiles, which could change the balance of power vis-a-vis the IDF, but “as far as we can tell, they don’t want” chemical weapons.

Israel has conducted airstrikes inside Syria at least three times this year, in what sources said were attempts to block shipments of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US knows that the Assad regime possesses sarin gas, and that there’s not a shred of evidence that the opposition does. Sarin is believed to have been used in the attack on a Damascus suburb on August 21 in which over 1,400 people were killed, according to US figures.

“There’s no indication – none – that the opposition is in possession [of the gas] or has launched a CW variant of these [122 -millimeter] rockets,” Kerry said at a State Department press briefing Thursday.

Russia has consistently maintained that the rebels are behind that chemical attack and that it will present proof of such to the UN Security Council.

“This isn’t complicated. When we say we know what is true, we meant it. We have a definitive UN report strengthening case,” Kerry said.

“The world can decide whether it was used by the regime, which has used chemical weapons before, the regime which had the rockets and the weapons, or whether the opposition secretly went unnoticed into territory they don’t control to fire rockets they don’t have containing sarin that they don’t possess to kill their own people. And then without even being noticed, they just disassembled it all and packed up and got out of the center of Damascus, controlled by Assad,” said the secretary of state.

He stressed that the UN Security Council must be prepared to act next week on Syria, that it must stand up and speak out against the use of chemical weapons.

“Time is short. Let’s not spend time debating what we already know. We have to recognize that world is watching to see whether we can avoid military action, A complete removal of the chemical weapons is possible through peaceful means.”

The Russian-US agreement reached last week, which aims to have Syria’s WMD cache destroyed by mid-2014, “clearly said it must be enforceable, it must be as soon as possible, it must be real,” said Kerry

“We need a binding resolution to achieve that goal. We must make the Geneva deal meaningful. We have an important goal in New York and we have to achieve it as rapidly as possible,” said the secretary of state.

“This fight about Syria’s chemical weapon is not a game. It’s real. It’s important that this Geneva agreement be enforced,” he stressed.

On Tuesday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power also said that the UN report points to Assad.

“The technical details of the UN report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack.”

“One type of munition, 122mm rockets, were found to have been used in the attack, a type associated with “previous regime attacks,” Power said, adding that “we have not observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket.”

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