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Syria's chemical weapons: a mysterious arsenal
by Staff Writers
Nicosia (AFP) April 26, 2013

World must gear to act on Syria chemical arms: Israel
Jerusalem (AFP) April 26, 2013 - The international community must be ready to use military action in response to any chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime, Israel's deputy foreign minister said on Friday.

"From the moment the international community understands that red lines have been crossed and that chemical weapons have been used, they will realise there's no other choice than to react (militarily)," Zeev Elkin told Israeli army radio.

"It's clear that if the US and the international community wish to, they can react militarily and take control of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal," Elkin added.

"This will put an end to all concerns," he said.

The US said Thursday for the first time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime had likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces, but stressed that intelligence services were not yet 100 per cent sure.

"Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria," US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

A senior US adminstration official said "all options are on the table" if it is confirmed that Syria has used chemical weapons.

The official recalled that the United States is already engaged in "diplomatic initiatives (and) assistance to the opposition" in Syria, where the UN says a grinding civil war has killed more than 70,000 since March 2011.

Last month, during a visit to Israel, US President Barack Obama said the use of chemical weapons would be a "game changer."

Mounting evidence of chemical weapons attacks on fighters battling Assad's regime could increase the pressure on Obama -- who has sought to avoid any US military role in the conflict -- to intervene.

The Pentagon has already sent more than 200 troops to Jordan to prepare for a possible joint operation with allies to secure chemical weapons.

Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons has existed for several decades and is considered one of the biggest in the Middle East, but its exact makeup and size remain guesswork as few facts have emerged.

The White House said Thursday that Syria had likely used chemical weapons against rebel forces on a "small scale," during the conflict which has raged in the country for the past two years. However it emphasized US spy agencies were still not 100 percent sure.

Britain said it has "limited but persuasive" evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, including sarin gas.

On April 8, Syria refused to accept a chemical weapons team, as proposed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, to probe the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country's conflict.

The Syrian regime acknowledged for the first time on July 23, 2012 that it had chemical weapons and threatened to use them in case of a Western military intervention, but never against the Syrian population.

The government and the armed opposition accuse each other of having used chemical weapons during the conflict.

Syria is one of the few countries not to have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and is believed to have a large stockpile of sarin and other nerve gases.

The Syrian programme was launched in the 1970s with the help of Egypt and the former Soviet Union.

In the 1990s Russia provided support, followed by Iran since 2005, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), an independent organisation tracking data on arms of massive destruction.

According to an analyst at the non-proliferation and disarmament programme of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), at stake is the biggest chemical weapons programme in the Middle East, created at the start with the goal of counterbalancing Israel's nuclear programme.

The analyst says that important information on the programme has been collected following the defection of several Syrian military officers, but that the information is "far" from being complete.

According to an expert at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in the United States, Syria has "hundreds of tonnes" of diverse chemical agents.

"Their armoury of chemical agents is quite strong," according to a French specialist in chemical weapons at the Foundation for Strategic Research.

"The Syrians have managed to master the synthesis of organophosphorus', that's the last generation, the most efficient and most toxic of chemical weapons. In this family, one finds sarin and VX, as well as...mustard gas," he said last July.

On January 30, the Israeli air force bombarded a site of ground to air missiles and an adjacent military complex near Damascus suspected of holding chemical agents, with Israel saying it feared the transfer of chemical weapons to the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, according to a US official.

According to the New York Times, the raid could have damaged Syria's main research centre into biological and chemical weapons.


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