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'Assad Has Chemicals that Can Eradicate Entire Towns'

Assad has enough sarin to "eradicate the whole of Damascus," says a former scientist for the Syrian chemical weapons program.
By Elad Benari, Canada
First Publish: 5/24/2013, 11:31 PM

President Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-Assad
AFP photo

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has enough of the nerve agent sarin to "eradicate the whole of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo," a former scientist for the Syrian chemical weapons program says.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity after he fled Syria, the chemist said that the regime is not likely to unleash its chemical stockpiles unless it “no longer cares about the world knowing."

"If the regime is to fire a Scud-B with a chemical warhead filled with sarin, the missile would create a chemical cloud in the atmosphere that is 3km long and 500m wide, which could be fatal to all people under it," the chemist told Al Jazeera.

He claimed that the regime has only used sarin nerve gas in small quantities to halt rebel advances in four towns in the suburbs of Damascus, in Aleppo’s Sheikh Maksoud district, in Idlib's Saraqeb town and in Homs' al-Khalidiyeh district.

"The intention was to incapacitate rebels and force them out of strategic areas, while keeping the deaths among their ranks limited," the chemist said, who added that he was speaking out "to dispel the myths on chemical weapons in Syria."

The Syrian government has managed to keep information about its chemical weapons largely beyond the reach of outsiders, and to keep its scientists under heavy surveillance, even keeping some under 24-hour guard.

The exiled chemist told Al Jazeera that Syria’s stockpile comprises 700 tons of sarin agent, at least 3,000 aerial bombs that could be filled with chemical agents and more than 100 chemical warheads for Scud missiles.

Consistent with other intelligence reports, the chemist said that Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal also contains mustard gas and what experts describe as the deadliest of all nerve agents, VX.

Some Western intelligence agencies believe that Syria also has access to tabun nerve agent, but the chemist said these reports are untrue.

The regime and rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons on several occasions, and the issue has come to dominate recent debate about the two-year-long conflict.

The U.S. and Britain say they have "credible evidence" that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and Turkey said its hospitals treated patients exposed to chemical attack.

The chemist said he fled the country before December 23, 2012, when the first claims emerged about the regime’s use of chemical weapons in the neighborhood of Khaldiyeh, in the city of Homs. The neighborhood is strategic because it divides Sunnis and largely pro-government Alawites.

A diluted mix of sarin and isopropyl alcohol was likely used in December 2012, according to the scientist, but he cast doubt on the claims of the regime and rebels that chemical weapons were used in Khan al-Assal in Aleppo on March 19.

"When medics report [a] very disgusting smell, the way they did in Khan al-Assal, it is obvious it’s not coming from chemical weapons," the chemist told Al Jazeera. "The fact that patients only suffered from suffocation and no other symptoms further confirms that it was not sarin."

The chemist said what was likely fired was military-grade tear gas, used as a substitute for chemical agents. The chemist explained that during the two-year conflict, the regime has experimented with mixing different gases - like sarin and tear gas - in order to create a mélange of symptoms that would make the cause hard to identify.

"When opposition activists report different kinds of symptoms resulting from the different gases, it becomes hard to believe them. Some opposition fighters report a burning sensation in the eyes, raising the question as to whether this was tear gas or nerve gas," the chemist told Al Jazeera.

The scientist said the regime had convinced him that the weapons he was working on were for self-defense against Israel.

"It was our dogma that we were creating the equivalent of Israel’s nuclear weapons," the chemist said. "Never were we told that the weapons could be used inside the country."

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)