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Hints of Syrian regime mixing chemical weapons push drive for global efforts report

Published: Updated:
Satellite images of Syrian regime appearing to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites late November, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, have pushed for global efforts to make the embattled regime to stop the bomb preparation, a U.S. newspaper reported Monday.

Top Israeli commanders called the Pentagon to discuss “troubling” intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery of the Syrian regime filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes, The New York Times reported.

According to the newspaper, international cooperation ensued after the Israeli warning and U.S. officials sounding the alarm that the increasingly desperate Syrian regime could order the weapons to be used, which could be airborne in less than two hours.

“The combination of a public warning by [U.S. President Barack] Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation,” the paper said.

“A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over — for the time being,” it added.

Late December, Reuters reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had secretly met Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman to discuss the risk of Syria’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants, Israeli media reports said.

Two TV stations and Israeli news sites quoted unnamed Israeli officials confirming a report in the London-based Arabic language daily, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, that such a summit had been held. Netanyahu’s spokesmen have declined to comment on the reports.

As Syria’s southern neighbor, Israel has been concerned about the risk of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants or Lebanese Hezbollah fighters as an uprising against him convulses a country thought to possess a formidable chemical arsenal.

Israel has warned it could intervene if it felt there was a real risk of such a scenario unfolding.