U.S. President Barack Obama issued a direct warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday, saying he should heed U.S. warnings to neither use nor move chemical or biological weapons, CNN reported.
“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Obama told reporters at the White House. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime -- but also to other players on the ground -- that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
He added, “That would change my calculus; that would change my equation.”
Obama said that U.S. officials are monitoring the situation "very carefully" and have put together a number of contingency plans.
“We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that's a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons,” CNN quoted him as having said.
Obama's remarks come after he said last month that the Syrian leadership “will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.”
Israel has expressed concerns that Assad’s chemical weapons will end up in the hands of the Hizbullah terror group if his regime falls.
Syria has admitted it has chemical weapons and has threatened to use them if attacked by external forces. It claimed it will not use these weapons on rebels fighting to oust Assad.
Earlier this month it was reported that Assad has transferred a battery of advanced missiles to the al-Masna border crossing, which is the central route used to transfer equipment and weapons to Hizbullah. Members of the Syrian opposition said that one of two major chemical arsenals of the Syrian regime is located near that border crossing.
This facility is located just 24 kilometers from a missile base belonging to Hizbullah and was first exposed by the London Times newspaper in May of 2010.
Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow and director of the military and security studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told CNN that the Syrian regime “probably has the largest and most advanced chemical warfare program in the Arab world.”
Eisenstadt said Assad’s arsenal includes “thousands of tube and rocket artillery rounds filled with mustard-type blister agents, thousands of bombs filled with the nerve agents sarin and possibly VX, and binary-type and cluster CW warheads filled with nerve agents for all its major missile systems.
“Its CW infrastructure is believed to include several production facilities and numerous storage sites, mostly dispersed throughout the western half of the country,” Eisenstadt said.
Meanwhile, at least 122 people were killed in Syria Monday, including two children and their mother in Daraa, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria opposition group told CNN.
Among them were 10 bodies discovered splayed on the ground in the Damascus suburb of Qaboun. Video posted by activists showed at least one of the victims lying on his back, blindfolded, his arms stretched above his head. Others showed victims with bruised flesh and dark red splotches on their clothes.
Reports surfaced on Monday that Assad's brother Maher al-Assad has died.
Syria rejected the reports, which were published by Russian media, as “baseless” and said they constituted “desperate psychological warfare to undermine the determination of the Syrian people.”