WASHINGTON – US officials said that Syria
has started to move part of its chemical weapons
arsenal out of storage facilities, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The country's undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and
cyanide have long worried US officials and their allies in the region, the report said.
Western nations have looked for signs amid the rebellion against President Bashar Assad's
government of any change in the location of those weapons, believed to be the world's largest stockpile.
American officials are divided on the meaning of the moves of the arsenal. Some fear Assad may want to use the weapons against rebels or civilians, while others said perhaps he is trying to safeguard them from his opponents, the WSJ reported.
Some US officials fear Damascus intends to use the weapons against the rebels or civilians, potentially as part of a targeted ethnic cleansing
campaign. But other officials said Mr. Assad may be trying to safeguard the material from his opponents or to complicate Western powers' efforts to track the weapons.
Whatever the motivation, the evidence that the chemical weapons are coming into play could escalate the conflict in Syria, the report said. "This could set the precedent of WMD
(weapons of mass destruction) being used under our watch. This is incredibly dangerous to our national security," a US official told the paper.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We repeatedly made it clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons."
She added that "the international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation."
The Syrian government denied chemical stockpiles have been moved, the report said.
Syria is one of eight states – along with Israel
and nearby Egypt
– that have not joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which means the world's chemical weapons watchdog has no jurisdiction to intervene there.
The Assad government has in the past denied having weapons of mass destruction.
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop