Is­raeli de­fence of­fi­cials: As­sad still has chem­i­cal weapons

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - WORLD NEWS - JOSEF FEDERMAN

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli de­fence of­fi­cials said on Wed­nes­day that Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad still has up to three tons of chem­i­cal weapons.

The as­sess­ment, based on Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence, was re­vealed to re­porters two weeks af­ter a chem­i­cal at­tack in Syria killed at least 90 peo­ple. Is­rael, along with much of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, be­lieves that As­sad’s forces car­ried out the at­tack.

A se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial told re­porters that the Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence es­ti­mates that As­sad has “be­tween one and three tons” of chem­i­cal weapons.

The as­sess­ment was con­firmed by two other de­fence of­fi­cials. All of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity un­der mil­i­tary briefing rules.

As­sad has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions that he was be­hind the April 4 at­tack in the op­po­si­tion-held town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria’s south­ern Idlib prov­ince.

The United States and many other na­tions have called the at­tack a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack and ac­cused the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment of re­spon­si­bil­ity. In re­sponse, the United States fired nearly 60 mis­siles at a Syr­ian air base it sus­pected of be­ing the launch­ing pad for the at­tack. Is­rael, which wel­comed the U.S. strike, was no­ti­fied two hours ahead of time, the mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said.

The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has been locked in a six-year civil war against an ar­ray of op­po­si­tion forces. The fight­ing has killed an es­ti­mated 400,000 peo­ple and dis­placed half of Syria’s pop­u­la­tion.

As­sad agreed in 2013 to de­clare and dis­pose of all his chem­i­cal weapons un­der UN su­per­vi­sion, but his forces have re­peat­edly been ac­cused of us­ing them since then.

The dis­ar­ma­ment, which was car­ried out amid a chaotic con­flict, has al­ways been the sub­ject of some doubt, and there is ev­i­dence that the Is­lamic State group and other in­sur­gents have ac­quired chem­i­cal weapons.

A fact-find­ing mis­sion from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, an in­ter­na­tional watch­dog, is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent and is ex­pected to is­sue a re­port within two weeks.

Turk­ish and Bri­tish tests also have con­cluded that sarin or a sub­stance sim­i­lar to the deadly nerve agent was used in the Idlib at­tack.

Syria agreed to give up its chem­i­cal weapons arse­nal to avert U.S. strikes in Septem­ber 2013, fol­low­ing a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs in Au­gust that year that killed hun­dreds of peo­ple and sparked world­wide out­rage.

Ahead of dis­ar­ma­ment, As­sad’s gov­ern­ment dis­closed it had some 1,300 tons of chem­i­cal weapons, in­clud­ing sarin, VX nerve agent and mus­tard gas.

The en­tire stock­pile was said to have been dis­man­tled and shipped out un­der in­ter­na­tional su­per­vi­sion in 2014 and de­stroyed. The chem­i­cal weapons were shipped out­side Syria and de­stroyed abroad, with the most toxic ma­te­rial dis­posed of at sea aboard a U.S. ship. But doubts be­gan to emerge soon af­ter­ward that not all such ar­ma­ments or pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties were de­clared and de­stroyed.

Ear­lier this week, As­sad’s for­mer chem­i­cal weapons re­search chief told Britain’s The Tele­graph that Syria had “at least 2,000 tons” of chem­i­cal weapons be­fore the war and only de­clared 1,300.

For­mer Brig. Gen. Za­her al­Sakat said the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment still pos­sessed hun­dreds of tons of chem­i­cal weapons.

Is­rael has largely stayed out of the civil war rag­ing in its north­ern neigh­bour. But it has car­ried out a num­ber air strikes against sus­pected arms ship­ments bound for As­sad’s ally Hezbol­lah in Le­banon, and in re­tal­i­a­tion to er­rant fire into the Golan Heights.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

In photo from April 4, vic­tims of the sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack lie on the ground, in Khan Sheikhoun, in the north­ern prov­ince of Idlib, Syria. Is­raeli de­fense of­fi­cials say Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad still has up to three tons of chem­i­cal weapons. The of­fi­cials de­liv­ered the as­sess­ment on Wed­nes­day, weeks af­ter a chem­i­cal at­tack in Syria killed at least 90 peo­ple.

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