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Is Syria Preparing Sarin Gas for Possible Use Against Rebels?


Residents walk past buildings damaged in heavy fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria on Sunday. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)

Wired’s “Danger Room” blog reports Syria has begun making preparations to weaponize sarin gas for possible use, a potentially dangerous development that has the U.S. and Syria’s neighbors very worried. Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman report (emphasis added):

Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas, an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room. International observers are now more worried than they’ve even been that the Damascus government could use its nerve agent stockpile to slaughter its own people.

The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria. Nor are they sure why the Assad government is transferring some weapons to different locations within the country, as the New York Times reported on Monday.

All that’s certain is that the arms have now been prepped to be used, should Assad order it.

“Physically, they’ve gotten to the point where the can load it up on a plane and drop it,” the official adds.

On Monday, President Barack Obama warned of consequences should Syria’s President Bashar Assad decide to use chemical weapons against forces fighting his rule.

"I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable," he added.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney said earlier Monday that were Assad to use chemical weapons, it would "cross a red line for the United States." He would not say how the U.S. would respond or if military force was being considered, only that "contingency planning" was under way.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry official insists the Assad regime will "never, under any circumstances" use chemical weapons against its own people. "In response to the statements of the US foreign minister, Syria confirms repeatedly it will never, under any circumstances, use chemical weapons against its own people, if such weapons exist," the official was quoted by Syrian television.

Reflecting concerns the Syrian civil war could spillover to its neighbors and that unconventional weapons could land in the hands of terror groups like Hezbollah, the Atlantic reports that twice in the past month, Israel asked Jordanian government officials for permission to destroy Syrian chemical weapons sites. The magazine’s National Correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The U.S. is not the only country worried about the possible use of chemical weapons. Intelligence officials in two countries told me recently that the Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government with a plan to take out many of Syria's chemical weapons sites. According to these two officials, Israel has been seeking Jordan's "permission" to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.

Of course, Israel can attack these sites without Jordanian approval (in 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor), but one official told me that the Israelis are concerned about the possible repercussions of such an attack on Jordan. "A number of sites are not far from the border," he said, further explaining: "The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack."

According to The New York Times, the Syrian military has moved chemical weapons in recent days to different locations in the country. An Israeli official told the paper, “we are seeing a kind of action that we’ve never seen before.”

It’s not only Israel that’s concerned. The Guardian, quoting Turkish officials, reported over the weekend that Turkey’s request for NATO Patriot missile defenses was prompted by intelligence Syria might be considering the use of missiles, possibly armed with chemical warheads.

The officials are worried the Syrian dictator could resort to the chemical weapons option as a desperate last move to hold onto power.

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