Assad using tunnels to smuggle arms to Hezbollah, Saudi daily claims

Opposition sources claim underground passageways have replaced vegetable trucks as means of getting Syrian chemical weapons to Lebanon

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

A smuggling tunnel on the Gaza-Egypt border (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)
A smuggling tunnel on the Gaza-Egypt border (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, File)

Opposition sources reportedly told a Saudi newspaper 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 a 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.

A UN report published Monday found “clear and convincing” evidence that sarin gas was used in an attack against civilians in the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, but fell short of accusing the Assad regime of perpetrating the attack.

Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.

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