Syrian army ‘using chemical weapons’, says Israeli military analyst

But Netanyahu cannot back claims, says Kerry

US secretary of state John Kerry says Netanyahu not in a position to confirm reports of chemical weapon use in Syria. Photograph: Reuters

US secretary of state John Kerry says Netanyahu not in a position to confirm reports of chemical weapon use in Syria. Photograph: Reuters

Wed, Apr 24, 2013, 14:26

The Israeli army’s top intelligence analyst says he is certain that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel forces several times in the past few weeks, and is continuing to do so.

Brig Gen Itai Brun, head of the military intelligence research and analysis division, told a security conference in Tel Aviv that based on the pictures of the victims – the size of their pupils “and the foam coming out of their mouths”– the army believed that Syrian troops had used the lethal nerve gas sarin.

Sarin, which was also used by Saddam Hussein against Iraqi Kurds in 1988, is a nerve agent that cripples the respiratory system and is considered a weapon of mass destruction.


Response ‘worrying’
He said there were more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons in Syria, including sarin and VX, both of which can be deployed by artillery and ballistic missiles.

“The fact that there has already been use of chemical weapons without an appropriate international response is very worrying. The possibility that non-state actors, who do not make the same cost-benefit calculations as states do, get their hands on these weapons is also very worrying,” Brig Gen Brun said.

There have been several assertions in recent months, by the Syrian government and the opposition, that both sides have used chemical weapons. No independent evidence has been adduced, however, to support the claims.


Unconfirmed
In response to Brig Gen Brun’s assertion yesterday, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not confirm his comments, said US secretary of state John Kerry.

“I talked to prime minister Netanyahu this morning. I think it is fair for me to say that he was not in a position to confirm that in the conversation that I had,” Kerry told a news conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels. “I don’t know yet what the facts are.”

The US and other western states have been examining reports of the use of chemical weapons but have failed to confirm such a development. Mr Kerry said Nato needed to consider its role in the Syrian crisis, including how it would respond to a potential chemical weapons threat.

US president Barack Obama termed the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that would trigger a US response, and secretary of defence Chuck Hagel said during a visit to Israel on Monday that “the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons would be a game changer”.