US concerned over Syria's chemical weapons

White House consulting with Syria's neighbors over chemical weapons; US believes stockpile remains under Assad's control.

By REUTERS, JPOST.COM STAFF
July 21, 2012 20:36
2 minute read.
Soldiers in protective gear (Illustrative)

Chemical Weapons (R370). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The United States is closely monitoring Syria's chemical weapons stockpile and is "actively consulting" Damascus's neighbors to stress concerns over the security of those weapons and Syria's responsibility to safeguard them, the White House said on Saturday.

"We believe Syria's chemical weapons stockpile remains under Syrian government control," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "Given the escalation of violence in Syria and the regime's increasing attacks on their people, we remain very concerned about these weapons."

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That was the White House response to a question about a Syrian military defector's claim that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces were moving chemical weapons across the country for possible use against the opposition in a military retaliation for the killing of four top security officials

The Free Syrian Army is forming a team to secure the country's chemical weapons, an FSA general told The Daily Telegraph on Saturday.

According to the report, the rebel general was once in charge of drafting plans to secure the same sites in his previous role as a general in Syrian President Bashar Assad's army. He came out of retirement to join the opposition earlier this year.

"We have a group just to deal with chemical weapons," General Adnan Silou told the Telegraph.

He went on to describe two chemical weapons sites, one in east Damascus and another near Homs, according to the report.

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In a separate interview, a senior Syrian military defector told Reuters Saturday that Assad's forces were moving chemical weapons across the country for possible use in a military retaliation for the killing of four top security officials.

"The regime has started moving its chemical stockpile and redistributing it to prepare for its use," said General Mustafa Sheikh, citing rebel intelligence obtained in recent days.

"They are moving it from warehouses to new locations," he told Reuters in an interview in southern Turkey, close to the Syrian border. "They want to burn the country. The regime cannot fall without perpetrating a sea of blood."

Syria's 16-month conflict has been transformed since Wednesday, when a bomb killed four members of Assad's narrow circle of kin and lieutenants, including his powerful brother-in-law, defense minister and intelligence chief.

Sheikh's comments could not be independently verified and Syria has denied any such move.

Western and Israeli officials, concerned that chemical stockpiles could fall into the hands of militants, said a week ago that Syria appeared to be shifting weapons from storage sites, but it was not clear whether the operation was a security precaution or a preparation for deployment.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak revealed Friday that Israel is preparing for a possible military intervention in Syria in case Damascus hands its missiles or chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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