Last Updated: Tue May 29, 2012 10:43 am (KSA) 07:43 am (GMT)

Syrian army rebels will secure chemical weapons following Assad’s fall: report

The United Nations estimates that around 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. (Reuters)
The United Nations estimates that around 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. (Reuters)

Once the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad collapses, the Syrian opposition plans to take control of the regime’s chemical weapons depots and secure them, an Israeli daily reported citing a top opposition figure.

The daily Haaretz quoted an opposition leader, who was a former senior officer in the Syrian Army -- on conditions of anonymity -- as saying that they have committees dealing with a new constitution and post-Assad elections, justice and the restoration of security that will follow the fall of Assad’s regime.

He added that the large arsenal of chemical weapons held by the regime “is one of the matters the security committee has discussed.”

“We have divided the aftermath into four periods with different priorities for each day. The first period is the first day, the first hours after Assad’s control breaks down, and one of the priorities during those hours is taking control of the chemical weapons so they won’t fall into the hands of terrorists,” the former officer – now a top member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) -- was quoted by Haaretz as saying.

Israel has concerns that such weapons might fall into the hands of the Lebanese armed group of Hezbollah or other terror organizations.

He said that the FSA knows the locations of the chemical weapon stores. “We will be ready to move and secure them quickly. I can’t promise that nothing will be removed, but we have our information and it is not so simple to move around chemical weapons.” The chemical weapons bases are controlled by the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, he said.

Haaretz mentioned that the former officer had fought in Syria’s wars against Israel and still has connections to senior officers in the army, including many who have defected to the opposition FSA.

He was quoted by the Israeli daily as saying that around a third of the Syrian armed forces have defected since the start of the uprising against Assad’s regime. “There are two kinds of defectors,” he said, “the majority, around 60,000, have simply run away, back to their homes, while some 30,000 have actively joined the opposition, mostly the Free Syrian Army, and are fighting.”

“These numbers are still not sufficient to topple the Assad regime as they are not organized in one command structure, but commanded by separate committees in each of Syria’s fourteen provinces. They also lack advanced weapons and missiles,” he said.

According to the Israeli daily, against the 30,000 soldiers in the FSA, the government still has a number of loyal troops, numbering around 70,000 soldiers.

In addition to those local forces loyal to the Syrian regime, Assad is receiving increased assistance from Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and from Iraqi fighters loyal to Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, he said.

He added that “they have brought aerial drones that assist Assad’s forces with surveillance. They also opened up a slush fund with millions of dollars to help Assad buy more arms from the Russians.”

Haaretz quoted the Syrian officer as saying that in the past, the then-called “Soviet Union sold Syria arms on credit, now they are demanding cash up-front on all arms deals and the money is coming from Tehran. Iran knows that if Assad falls, their entire power structure all the way to Hezbollah in Lebanon will also fall. But there is a limit to how much Iran will do to help Syria. They won’t send in army units to save him because they know this will be a cause for Israel to attack them.”

However, Israel’s Ynet news website reported on Sunday that Iran had sent troops to aid Assad in his crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in his country.

“If the Islamic Republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of civilians would have been twice as bad,” General Ismail Qaani, deputy-commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, told Tehran’s ISNA news agency, according to Ynet.

In a rare admission by an Iranian official that Tehran was truly aiding the Damascus regime, Qaani added that Iran “had physically and non-physically stopped the rebels from killing many more among the Syrian people.”
According to Israel’s Ynet, the quote was later removed from ISNA’s website.

The United Nations estimates that around 9,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising against President Assad in March 2011. Syrian rights groups put the number around 12,000.

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