The Syrian government has moved chemical weapons to airports on its borders, the rebel Free Syrian Army said Tuesday, a day after the regime warned it could use them if attacked by an outside force, as France warned that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces would be “unacceptable.”
“We in the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside the country know very well the locations and positions of these weapons,” a statement from the FSA said.
“We also reveal that (President Bashar al-)Assad has transferred some of these weapons and equipment for mixing chemical components to airports on the border.”
The statement said the weapons had been moved in a bid to pressure the international community, much of which has called for Assad to step aside in the face of a 16-month uprising against his rule.
“According to our information, the regime began moving its stocks of weapons of mass destruction several months ago... with the goal of putting pressure on the region and the international community,” the FSA said.
But the group said it was impossible to believe that the regime would use its weapons against neighboring Israel, which has publicly expressed concerns about the fate of Syria’s massive chemical weapons stocks.
“The regime that has not fired a single bullet against Israel during the course of three decades is certainly not going to use chemical weapons against that country,” the statement said.
The Syrian regime made public reference to its chemical weapons stocks for the first time on Monday, with foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi warning they could be used if outside forces attacked.
“Syria will not use any chemical or other unconventional weapons against its civilians, and will only use them in case of external aggression,” Makdissi told reporters.
“Any stocks of chemical weapons that may exist, will never, ever be used against the Syrian people,” he said, adding that in the event of foreign attack, “the generals will be deciding when and how we use them.”
The comments sparked international condemnation, including from the United States, with U.S. President Barack Obama warning Syria not to make the “tragic mistake” of using such weapons.
Makdissi backtracked somewhat later, stressing in an email that Syria would “never use chemical and biological weapons during the crisis... and that such weapons, if they exist, it is natural for them to be stored and secured.”
Use of chemical weapons unacceptable
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces would be unacceptable.
“Any use of chemical arms is completely unacceptable. President Obama made statements to this effect and so have others... These weapons are under strict surveillance by the international community,” Fabius told France 2 television.
Fabius also said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was bound to fall at some point and the Arab League offer of a safe exit would not save him from punishment.
Arab foreign ministers on Sunday offered Assad a “safe exit” if he stepped down -- an offer followed by a fierce counter-offensive by Syrian government forces, reflecting Assad’s determination to keep power against the 16-month-old rebellion against his rule.
“The Arab League has made this offer but I think that, in the long term, all dictators must pay for their crimes,” Fabius told France 2. “In the end, for him and other dictators, there will be no impunity... Assad will fall, it is only a matter of time.”
“The fall of Bashar al-Assad must not bring about a persecution of minorities,” Fabius added.
Several Western states expressed alarm at Syria’s acknowledgment that it had chemical and biological weapons and would use them against any foreign intervention, though not against Syrian rebels.
The Syrian announcement followed a week of unprecedented fighting in the capital, Damascus, and a bomb attack that killed four of Assad's closest advisers including his brother-in-law.