Sunday 24 June 2018

Airstrikes 'failed to hit most of chemical arsenal'

Satellite imagery released yesterday showed significant damage to Barzeh. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)
Satellite imagery released yesterday showed significant damage to Barzeh. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company via AP)

Josie Ensor

Western airstrikes have done little to degrade Bashar al-Assad's chemical arsenal and his regime still could inflict major damage, Syria's former chemical weapons chief has said.

Brigadier General Zaher al-Sakat, who served as head of chemical warfare in the powerful 5th Division of the military until he defected in 2013, said the most strategic sites were not hit in Saturday's strikes.

The Pentagon had said that it believed the raids "attacked the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme", significantly hampering the government's ability to use such weapons again.

But the extent of the damage was questioned yesterday by Brig Gen Sakat, as well as other defectors from Syria's secretive chemical weapons programme, and chemical experts.

"Taqsis depot (in the central province of Homs) is what we wanted to be hit," Brig Gen Sakat said. "As long as it's still functioning, then they'll still have chemical weapons and the ability to produce more."

The 54-year-old, who left the army and joined the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) after he was ordered to carry out a number of chemical attacks on civilians, has maintained contact with officials inside Syria who share intelligence with him.

The targets of the American, British and French strikes included Barzeh Scientific Research Centre in the greater Damascus area, as well as a chemical weapons storage facility near the city of Homs.

Satellite imagery released yesterday showed significant damage to Barzeh.

It is one of the three main chemical research centres, alongside Dummar and Masyaf, the latter of which is thought to specialise in the integration of chemical payloads on to missiles.

"There's no actual production in Barzeh and they would have moved everything before the strikes anyway," Brig Gen Sakat said.

Captain Adulsalam Abdulrazek, a former officer in Syria's chemical programme who defected in 2012, also said the overnight strikes probably hit "parts of, but not the heart" of the chemical weapons operation.

Despite Syria's commitment to abolishing its programme in 2013, US officials say it is "highly likely" that the president kept a hidden, undisclosed stockpile.

"Now the Russians are in charge of the scene, we are sure they will manipulate the evidence," said Brig Gen Sakat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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