In a confidential report, the UN-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has found that Syria continues to manufacture chemical weapons, according to the journal Foreign Policy.
The 75-page report, seen by Foreign Policy, states that inspectors discovered traces of deadly toxins Sarin and VX in an underground laboratory known as Hafir 1.
In April 2016, the OPCW inspectors told The Hague that the samples they had collected at Hafir 1 “contain indicators of Sarin and VX nerve agents, which suggests that chemical weapons may have been produced and weaponized in this facility.”
Hafir 1 was never previously inspected by the OPCW. International powers involved in the Assad regime’s disarming itself of chemical weapons earlier in the country’s five-year civil war, including the US and Russia, had accepted Damascus’s claims that these facilities had never produced chemical weapons. But now it appears that the regime lied, not only producing the weapons at Hafir I, but even loading them into warheads.
According to the report, Damascus wanted to keep these warheads as an “insurance policy” against the rebels.
In the wake of the August 2013 Ghouta sarin gas attack, which may have killed upwards of 1,700 people in a Damascus suburb, Syria agreed join the Chemical Weapons Convention and allow the United Nations to destroy all of its chemical weapons.
Under the terms of a deal hammered out in September 2013 by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Syria finally admitted to possessing over 1,000 tons of chemical weapons after years of denials and agreed to hand over the whole stockpile for destruction.
The deal averted threatened US air strikes.
Under the agreement, Syria’s entire chemical arsenal had been due to be eliminated by June 30, 2014, and all chemical effluent removed by December 31, 2014.
By the end of 2014, US President Barack Obama said the elimination of Syria’s declared chemical weapons was completed. “Today we mark an important achievement in our ongoing effort to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction by eliminating Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile,” he said in a written statement.
In January 2015 OPCW declared that all of Syria’s chemical weapons had been completely destroyed.
“One hundred percent has been destroyed,” Malik Ellahi, spokesman for the OPCW, told AFP.
But later that year, US intelligence agencies found evidence that Assad had not given up his entire chemical arsenal.
According to the report, Assad tucked away “caches of even deadlier nerve agents” than the materiel he relinquished.
OPCW has continued to find cases where chemical weapons may have been used and which require further investigation in attacks since then.