Assad is already using chemical weapons, Syrian opposition claims
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Assad is already using chemical weapons, Syrian opposition claims

Sarin and mustard gas utilized in battle, says defecting officer; last week’s internet blackout was cover for transport of arms to Damascus, according to opposition

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israeli firemen wear gas masks as they take part in a drill simulating a chemical missile attack in the industrial zone of the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi in 2009 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Israeli firemen wear gas masks as they take part in a drill simulating a chemical missile attack in the industrial zone of the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Malachi in 2009 (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

As fears grow that Syrian President Bashar Assad may use chemical weapons in a desperate move to quell a 22-month uprising, members of the opposition claimed Friday that the regime is already using internationally-banned chemical agents in the war.

The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group active inside Syria, reported that on Thursday the military “threw toxic gases” in Daraya, southwest of Damascus, and attacked the towns of Mohasan and Buomar with phosphorus bombs.

A senior opposition member told told A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily with close ties to the Syrian opposition, that Assad cut internet and mobile communications to Syria last week in order to prepare and transport chemical weapons for use in Damascus, expecting a crucial battle with the Free Syrian Army in the capital.

‘I do not think [Assad] is suicidal or about to pursue a “Samson option,” as some have suggested,’ says Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syria.

He eventually did not use the weapons when the opposition decided to attack Damascus airport rather than the city itself. However, the regime’s use of cluster bombs and exploding barrels has been well-documented by international human rights groups.

Despite reports, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syria, said Assad was unlikely to fully utilize his chemical weapons capabilities at this time.

“He must know that as soon as he uses them, he will have written his death warrant,” Landis told The Times of Israel. “I do not think he is suicidal or about to pursue a ‘Samson option’ as some have suggested.”

According to Western intelligence agencies, Syria owns one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world, intended originally as a strategic deterrent against Israel.

Captain Abdul Salam Abdul Razaq, who defected from Syria’s chemical warfare unit, told A-Sharq Al-Awsat that sarin and mustard gas are the two nerve agents primarily used by the Syrian army in combat.

He said that since the colorless, odorless sarin gas evaporates within half an hour, the Syrian army uses it “before entering any area.” Abdul Razaq also pleaded for international assistance in taking control of chemical weapon sites, which he claimed defectors have accurate intelligence about.

On Thursday, Syrian deputy foreign minister Faysal Mekdad said that “if Syria owned chemical weapons, it would not use them against its people,” adding that the entire issue was invented by the West as a pretext to invade the country.

“Syria does not want to commit suicide,” Mekdad added.

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