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Assad still has hundreds of chemical weapons, says defected Syrian general

A handout picture released by the Syrian presidency's press office shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, on April 12, 2017
Handout (Syrian Presidency Press Office/AFP)
Assad was previously accused by the OPCW for at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 for the use of chlorine

A former Syrian general who specialized in chemical weapons told the Telegraph on Friday that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has retained hundreds of tons of chemical agents despite agreeing to turn in his inventory in 2013.

In 2013 Brig. Gen. Zaher al-Sakat, a weapons research chief, defected from Assad’s army. He told the British newspaper that the Syrian president had deceived the United Nations inspectors who had been sent to destroy his entire stockpile of chemical weapons.

Following a deadly chemical attack that killed hundreds on the outskirts of Damascus four years ago, the US threatened military action and under Moscow-brokered deal, Assad was supposed to have dismantled Syria's chemical weapons arsenal and ship it to Russia.

Sakat has long accused the Syrian leader of deceiving the international community, reported the Times of Israel.

According to his contacts inside Syria, Sakat said, Assad has not manufactured new weapons since 2014,  “they don’t need any more, they have all they need already.”

“They admitted only to 1,300 tons, but we knew in reality they had nearly double that,” Sakat said in the Telegraph interview. “They had at least 2,000 tons. At least.”

According to Sakat, about a hundred tons of that is believed to be the deadly Sarin gas. the agent suspected of being used on Idlib in an April 4 attack that killed eighty-six.

Omar haj kadour (AFP)

However, Sakat says that it isn’t “a lot for sarin” and may have been old.

“If you look at Halabja (the 1988 chemical attack carried out by Saddam Hussein’s forces against the Kurdish city) we think just five tons of sarin was used and more than 12,000 people died,” he said.

“Sarin degrades fairly quickly and becomes less toxic over time, so we could be looking at an attack using old sarin.”

He also told the Telegraph that Assad’s regime may be experimenting with mixing various gasses such as sarin and tear gas, so as to make the cause harder to identify by masking the symptoms.

In the past, the former general was ordered to personally carry out at least three chemical strikes before he defected, according to the Telegraph.

“I couldn’t believe at the beginning that Assad would use these weapons on his people,” he said. “I could not stand and watch the genocide. I couldn’t hurt my own people.”

Sarakat said that he switched out the chemical agents for harmless ones on those three occasions.

Omar haj kadour (AFP)

Assad has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the latest attack in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun, saying the accusations are “100 percent” fabrication and that the released footage fake.  

But, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said technical experts analyzed the available information "and their preliminary assessment (was) that this was a credible allegation."

Ahmet Uzumcu, the OPCW's director general, told members of the 41-state executive council that a fact-finding mission had already collected samples after the attack, which were sent to OPCW designated laboratories for analysis.

"OPCW experts are currently analyzing all information gathered from various sources" and is expected to "complete their work within the next two to three weeks", Uzumcu said in a statement, released from its Hague-based headquarters.

Assad was previously accused by the OPCW  for at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 for the use of chlorine.

Russia on Wednesday vetoed a UN resolution demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation into the alleged chemical attack, blocking Security Council action against its ally for an eighth time.

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