A senior British intelligence official questioned about claims in the US that several streams of signal intelligence detailing the transfer of a chemical agent said they believed the account to be a “pretty accurate description” of what the UK believes is going on.
Fox News reported a senior US defence source as saying it was not clear wether the movement of the agent, possibly Sarin nerve gas, had been authorised by President Bashar al Assad or local Syrian military commanders frustrated by the ongoing uprising in Homs.
The agents, which may not yet have been weaponised, were moved from previously known stockpile locations, the report said.
Recent investigations by Sky News identified four sites where chemical agents are produced: Hama, Latakia, Al Safira, near Aleppo and at the Centre D’Etude et Recherche Scientifique laboratories in Damascus.
Storage sites were also found at Khan abu Shamat, Furqlus, Hama, Masyaf, Palmyra.
The US source was quoted as saying the Pentagon is particularly worried because Sarin can be used and released in canisters so there may not be weapons per se involved.
Also Sarin does not remain in the air after an attack so a lot of people could die and the regime would have “plausible deniability” that it had used a chemical agent, the source added.
According to Middle Eastern and other intelligence sources, Syria has the biggest stockpiles of Sarin and VX nerve gas, as well as mustard gas, in the Middle East.
Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the UK Ambassador to the UN, told Sky News he was unable to confirm the reports.
But he added: “Clearly if there was an suggestion the Syrian regime might start using chemical weapons that would escalate things to a whole other level.”
A single drop of Sarin the size of a pinhead can kill an adult. Some 13 commuters were killed when a religious sect released Sarin on the Tokyo metro system in 1995. A further 1,100 were injured.
Sky’s US correspondent Dominic Waghorn said: “The word of caution you have to add is we’ve heard similar claims from Israel – concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons – and we’ve heard similar claims being made in London as well.
“This is at a time when the West is trying to put pressure on Russia and China to rally around a concerted effort to remove Assad from power and anything that makes the situation in Syria look worse is possibly going to help that effort.”
He added: “Although we know Syria does have weapons of mass destruction, unlike Iraq which was proven not to have had any after the conflict there, I think people listening to this will be sceptical of intelligence agencies talking about weapons of mass destruction.”
Nations including Britain and America insisted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion in 2003. None were ever found.
The UN Security Council must now decide the future of the mission before July 20, when its initial 90-day mandate expires.
Russia has proposed extending the mission for 90 days, but Britain, the United States, France and Germany countered with a draft resolution to extend the mission for just 45 days and place Annan’s peace plan under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
Chapter 7 allows the council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.
But Russian Deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin said that Moscow was “definitely against” Chapter 7.
Source: Sky News