Syria claims its chemical weapons arsenal secure


DAMASCUS YESTERDAY assured the international community its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was secure and that it would use the weapons only if attacked by external forces.

Foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stated: “No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used . . . during the crisis in Syria, no matter what the developments inside Syria.

“All of these types of weapons are in storage and . . . under the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces.” He said they “will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression”.

Damascus is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and is believed to have large stocks of such weapons and the means to deliver them. US intelligence sources monitoring the arsenal said stocks have been moved from the north, where fighting has been widespread, to safer areas.

Mr Makdissi’s remarks were meant to respond to US and Israeli concerns that Syria’s non-conventional weapons could fall into the hands of e rebel militias, the Lebanese Hizbullah or al-Qaeda.

Israeli military policy expert Amos Gilad said the Syrian regime was currently “maintaining control of these arsenals as best they can”. He appeared to be commenting on a threat issued by Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak that Israel could launch an attack on the arsenal.

Mr Makdissi rejected the Arab League offer of free passage for president Bashar al-Assad if he stood down. “This decision only concerns the Syrian people,” the spokesman stated. Iraq rejected the league proposal, while Lebanon disassociated itself from it.

Mr Makdissi asserted: “If the Arab nations . . . were honest about wanting to stop the bloodshed, they would have stopped supplying arms” to and instigating the rebels’ actions. He said the army would retake all three rebel-held crossings on the border with Turkey, and vowed Syria would return to normal “within days”.

Heavy skirmishing has been reported from rebel-infiltrated districts of Aleppo as government troops conducted searches in the Nahr Esha district of Damascus, adjacent to Midan, recaptured by the army last week. The army has stepped up attacks on rebels holed up in agricultural land in the district of Mezze and “cleansed” the townships of Barzeh and Qaboon in the northeast.

Syrian state television has aired photographs of dead fighters with non-Syrian passports, while opposition activists said there was a massacre in Mezze.

A report from British agency War Child, Syria: A War on Childhood, accuses the regime of shooting, detaining, torturing and sexually abusing children, and charges the rebels with recruiting children and “failing to protect children when engaging in hostilities in civilian areas”. The agency estimated 500 to 1,300 children have been killed, 635 detained by the security forces, girls and boys as young as eight forced to fight by rebels, and 470,000 children have been affected by the crisis. Half of the people displaced in the war are children.

Jordan’s King Abdullah declared that although security along the kingdom’s northern border has been bolstered, Syrian refugees will be allowed to enter the country, which is already host to 140,000. The US and the Arab League plan to donate $100 million (€82.5 million) to ease the burden of caring for them. Britain and France called for greater humanitarian assistance after refugees in Turkish camps rioted due to a shortage of water and food.

The EU has strengthened sanctions against the Syrian government by ordering inspections of ships and aircraft suspected of delivering arms to Syria and by freezing the assets of 26 Syrians and three firms close to the regime.

Russia’s flag carrier Aeroflot said it was terminating flights to Damascus from August 6th due to falling demand. Syrian athletes have arrived in London to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games.