Assad speaks to supporters in 2012
Assad speaks to supporters in 2012AFP news agency

A Syrian officer who defected to join the rebels has told the British Sunday Telegraph that Syrian President Bashar Assad gave orders to use chemical weapons against rebel forces.

Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat said he was ordered to use chemical weapons three times. Each time he found himself unable to carry out the planned attack, he said, and replaced the chemical canisters with harmless bleach.

He insisted that the orders must have come from Syrian President Bashar Assad himself. Assad’s regime has denied involvement in chemical weapons use.

Sakat also claimed to have evidence that Assad is circumventing a Russian-brokered deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. In fact, Assad is not destroying all the weapons, but is instead transferring them to Hezbollah, he warned.

Syria handed over data on its chemical arsenal on Saturday, narrowly meeting a deadline to avert international military intervention.

Syria has faced heavy pressure over its chemical weapons arsenal since a chemical attack near Damascus which killed several hundred civilians. Several Western nations blamed Assad for the attack, and leaders in the United States and Britain threatened military strikes to prevent future such attacks.

The planned military intervention was put aside in favor of the Russian deal, under which the Syrian regime will dispose of its chemical weapons over the next year.