A Syrian rebel leader claims that the Assad regime has transferred chemical weapons to the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah amid talks to ensure the transfer of Syria’s WMDs to international authorities for destruction.
According to a report Friday 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 Syrian President Bashar 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.
There was no indication in the report as to when the Assad regime transferred the chemical agent to the Lebanese terrorist group, but a CNN report published on Thursday quoted Free Syrian Army leader Salim Idriss claiming that the Syrian government had begun moving its chemical weapons stockpiles to Lebanon and Iraq.
Baghdad rejected Idris’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 al-Watan report also emerged at the same time as the Syrian military unit running Assad’s chemical weapons program reportedly began scattering the regime’s stockpiles to as many as 50 sites across the country to confound American efforts to track them, the Wall Street Journal cited “American and Middle Eastern officials” as saying.
“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.
Western intelligence estimates that the Assad regime possesses roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical and biological weapons.
Efforts to arrive at a diplomatic resolution to the international crisis over Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use were set to continue Friday. UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi was scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, a UN official told Reuters.
The American and Russian envoys met Thursday in the Swiss city to discuss a plan pushed by Moscow to forestall punitive American military action against Damascus for an alleged chemical weapons attack on August 21, which the Obama administration claims killed over 1,400 people.
Kerry rejected Assad’s suggestion Thursday that he begin submitting data on his chemical weapons arsenal one month after signing an international chemical weapons ban.
The US top diplomat said at a press conference that the turnover of weapons must be complete, verifiable and timely — “and finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place.”