Syrian activists claim Assad’s forces used ‘toxic gas’ against civilians


Syrian activists from the city of Deir Ezzour have circulated a video on the internet of children they said were victims of toxic gas attacks by regime forces amid growing international concern about the country’s stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The activists reported cases of asphyxia due to what they said was toxic gas released by regime forces in the town on Friday.

The anti-regime activists also published a video explaining to people how to make masks that will protect them from airborne toxic gases. The mask forms a sealed cover over the nose and the mouth and also provides cover for the eyes.

On Monday, Nawaf Fares, who defected from his post as Syrian ambassador to Iraq, said in an interview with the BBC that he was “convinced” that Assad would draw on his stocks if cornered, according to AFP.

His comments were backed up by members of the rebel Syrian Free Army.

A few days earlier, the Wall Street Journal said that intelligence reports suggested some chemical weapons were on the move, although the reasons were unclear.

It said some U.S. officials feared the weapons could be used against rebels or civilians, while others believed they were being deliberately hidden from armed opposition groups or Western powers.

Both Fares and the Syrian Free Army even allege that chemical weapons have already been used during the Syrian conflict.

In reality, very little is known about Syria’s chemical capabilities as the country is not a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which requires member states to be transparent and destroy their stockpiles.

The secrecy surrounding the stockpiles has rattled Israel, which believes it could be a direct target, AFP reported.

Israel’s deputy chief of the general staff, Major General Yair Naveh, said in June that Syria has the “biggest chemical weapons arsenal in the world.”

“(Syria) has missiles and rockets capable of reaching any part of Israeli territory,” he warned.

Syria has, however, never used chemical weapons against Israel, even during the 1982 Lebanon war.

Syria is believed to have stockpiles of the deadly nerve agent sarin gas, as well as reserves of cyanide and of mustard gas, which was used in World War One.

Its program is thought to be “quite large,” said Byman.

Experts think the program has been developed over the last 40 years, initially with help from the former Soviet Union in a bid to reinforce Syria’s capacities against Israel then later by Iran.

According to a 2008 report from the Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Iran helped Syria build production centers and provided equipment.

“There are reports that Syria has benefited from sales and technology transfers from Iran,” CSIS said.

Another study by the California-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies showed that Syria has four or five chemical weapons factories near to the capital Damascus, the second city of Aleppo and in the province of Hama, one of the flashpoints of the conflict.