Traces of sarin and VX nerve agent have been found in Syria, a finding that supports assertions by Western governments that Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad lied about his chemical weapons stockpile, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
This revelation came on Friday, as reports revealed that Assad is openly working with Iran proxy Hezbollah after a spate of defeats.
In December and January, experts took samples from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a global chemical weapons watchdog, that tested positive for the chemical precursors used to make sarin and VX nerve agent, the diplomatic sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin,” said one diplomatic source. “They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding.”
Citing diplomats and analysts, Reuters reported that “the finding of VX and sarin supports assertions by Western governments that Assad withheld some of his stockpile, or did not disclose the full extent of Syria’s chemical capability or arsenal to the OPCW.”
The OPCW reportedly said chlorine has been used as a weapon in Syria “systematically and repeatedly” after the Assad government handed over its declared toxic stockpile under a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia.
“Syria has begun destroying a dozen chemical weapons production and storage sites, but also last year added several new facilities it had not initially disclosed to the OPCW,” noted Reuters.
On Friday, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.), told reporters that the U.S. believes the Assad government is responsible for more recent chlorine attacks.
The recently-found Sarin and VX nerve samples were seized from the Scientific Studies and Research Center, an Assad regime agency where Western intelligence officials say Syria developed biological and chemical arms, the diplomatic sources said.
“Obviously we are working to clarify Syria’s declaration,” said OPCW spokesman Peter Sawczak, when questioned about the diplomats’ assertions. “I cannot discuss any details of that process, but in due course the assessment team will issue a report.”
The Reuters report on the recent finding of the toxic agents in Syria came on the same day that Al Jazeera revealed that Assad is openly working with Iran’s ally Hezbollah.
“Lebanon’s Hezbollah is on the verge of launching an offensive against Syrian rebel groups in the mountainous Qalamoun region straddling the Syria-Lebanon border, north of Damascus,” reported Al Jazeera.
“But what was once seen as a relatively minor engagement in the broader Syrian conflict has taken on new significance,” it adds. “After a spate of military setbacks in the north and south of the country in the past six weeks, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is desperate for a victory and is depending on his Shia Hezbollah allies to deliver it.”
Defeating the rebels in the rugged Qalamoun mountains is a victory that Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies need to counter the perception that they are currently losing the civil war in Syria.
In August 2012, President Obama drew a red line, threatening “enormous consequences” against Assad if he used chemical weapons in Syria.
A year later, the U.S. government expressed little doubt that Assad had carried out the sarin gas attacks that killed hundreds of people in Ghouta, a suburb in the Syrian capital Damascus that is controlled by rebels.
Some U.S. lawmakers called for a military response to the August 2013 sarin gas attacks.
The Assad regime avoided foreign intervention by agreeing to a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia under which the Damascus government joined the OPCW, admitting to having a chemical weapons program and promising to permanently and completely destroy it.
Last year, the Assad government handed over more than 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons to a joint U.N.-OPCW mission for elimination.
Assad has denied using sarin or any chemical weapons during the ongoing civil war in Syria.