Assad has been moving chemical weapons to ‘airports’ on borders, rebels claim
Free Syrian Army leadership says regime began transferring stockpiles months ago
Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel.
Syria is moving chemical weapons to “airports” on its borders, the Free Syrian Army claimed on Tuesday, a day after Syria acknowledged for the first time that it maintains an arsenal of chemical weaponry.
“We in the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside the country know very well the locations and positions of these weapons,” a statement from the FSA said.
“We also reveal that Assad has transferred some of these weapons and equipment for mixing chemical components to airports on the border.”
“According to our information, the regime began moving its stocks of weapons of mass destruction several months ago … with the goal of putting pressure on the region and the international community,” the FSA said.
There was no independent confirmation of the FSA claim.
A Syrian army defector General Mustafa Sheikh, citing rebel intelligence, told Reuters on Saturday that the Assad regime “has started moving its chemical stockpile and redistributing it to prepare for its use.”
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi triggered a tidal wave of international condemnation on Monday when he said his country’s chemical weapons arsenal was secure and would only be used to deter a foreign assault. His comments marked Syria’s first acknowledgement of a chemical weapons capacity.
“No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the developments inside Syria,” Makdissi said. “All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.”
President Barack Obama said that the United States would “continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching,” and that “they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.”
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that “any possible use of these kinds of weapons would be completely unacceptable.”
President Shimon Peres on Monday condemned Damascus’s statements about deploying chemical weapons in the event of a foreign attack, and said Israel would do whatever it takes to eliminate the threat these weapons pose to the Jewish state.
IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned Tuesday that although Syria’s chemical weapons have not yet moved into “undesirable hands… that does not mean it will not happen.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have both indicated in recent days that Israel will not allow chemical weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday that, were any such transfer of weaponry to begin, Israel would regard it as a “clear casus belli.”
“In the moment we see that the Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah, this is a red line for us, and from our point of view it’s a clear casus belli,” Liberman said at a press conference in Brussels. “We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint. It will be a completely different ballgame. And we hope for the understanding from the international community and we hope for cooperation.”