Assad still has chemical weapons
JERUSALEM — Syria still has up to three tons of chemical weapons, Israeli defense officials said Wednesday in the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar Assad’s weapons capabilities since a deadly chemical attack earlier this month.
The estimate came as the head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said laboratory tests had provided “incontrovertible” evidence that victims and survivors of the April 4 attack in northern Syria were exposed to sarin nerve gas or a similar banned toxin.
Israel, along with the United States and much of the international community, has accused Assad’s forces of carrying out the attack, which killed at least 90 people, including dozens of children.
A senior Israeli military official said Israeli intelligence believes Syrian military commanders ordered the attack, with Assad’s knowledge. Briefing reporters, he said Israel estimates Assad still has “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons.
The assessment was confirmed by two other Israeli defense officials. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity under military briefing rules.
Assad has strongly denied he was behind the attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northern Idlib province, and has accused the opposition of trying to frame his government. Top Assad ally, Russia, has asserted a Syrian government air strike hit a rebel chemical weapons factory, causing the disaster.
In response to the April 4 attack, the United States fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base it said was the launching pad for the attack. Israel welcomed the strike on its northern neighbor.
The Syrian government has been locked in a sixyear civil war against an array of opposition forces. The fighting has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s population.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting, though it has carried out a number of air strikes on suspected Iranian weapons shipments it believed were bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah, both bitter enemies of Israel, along with Russia have sent forces to support Assad./