Syrian medical staff take part in a training exercise to learn how to treat victims of chemical weapons attacks, in a course organized by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Gaziantep, Turkey.
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
The Mossad, Israel's national intelligence agency, was responsible for the assassination of Syrian scientist Dr. Aziz Asbar in a car bomb on Saturday, a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official told The New York Times.
The official confirmed this incident, along with three other assassinations on foreign soil in a report published in the Times on Monday.
The Middle Eastern intelligence official added that he believed the reason for the assassination was Asbar's involvement in Syria's missile program, even before the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011.
While Syria and Hezbollah quickly pointed fingers at the Jewish State
, Israel, which does not respond to foreign media reports, had no comment on the assassination.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman downplayed the possibility of Israeli involvement, telling Channel 2 news that, “Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores. Every time they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”
"Assuming that he was indeed involved in terrorist activity, I welcome his departure from the world," said Intelligence Minister Israel Katz regarding the New York Times
report, in an interview with Army radio Tuesday.
However, according to the intelligence source, the Mossad had been tracking Asbar for a long time.
Dr. Aziz Asbar, one of the directors of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), was killed along with his personal driver as they left Asbar’s home.
According to Hezbollah’s al-Manar news site, Asbar headed Department 4 at the center, which focuses on the development of all of Syria’s ballistic missile and rocket programs. The department is also in charge of Institute 4000 which has several chemical-weapons programs.
Asbar was involved in the manufacturing of chemical weapons including Sarin gas, despite Syria agreeing to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, according to Western officials,
Israeli officials have raised concerns in the past about the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah.
Israel reportedly struck the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center several times, most recently on July 22, when Arab media reported that Israeli jets hit the one of the center’s arms production sites.
Israel is also believed to have struck the presumed base of the Syrian Arab Army’s secretive Unit 450, a branch of the Center which works on the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program. Western intelligence agencies and Syrian opposition figures alleged that Unit 450 had been dispersing chemical weapons stockpiles around the country, as well as to Hezbollah
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.
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