Syria’s rebels late Monday charged the regime has moved its chemical weapon stockpiles to airports and airbases on its borders with neighboring countries.
“We in the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside the country know very well the locations and positions of these weapons,” Syria’s largest rebel group said in a statement.
The move comes just one day after the embattled regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad warned it could use unconventional weapons if attacked by “an outside force.”
Analysts say, if true, that moving the weapons is likely a bid by Damascus to pressure the international community, which is at loggerheads over whether to intervene in 16-months of slaughter in Syria.
Western powers and their Gulf Arab allies have called for an end to Assad’s reign, and pressed for comprehensive international sanctions or even direct intervention.
Russia, with billions of dollars at risk should Assad fall, and China, a major consumer of Syrian oil, have shielded Damascus on three separate occasions at the UN Security Council.
“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.
The rebel group, comrpised of over 30,000 Syrian army defectors commanded by dissident officers who fled to neighboring Turkey, has also reportedly formed its own special unit to secure Damascus’ chemical weapons stores.
The United States on Monday issued a sharp warning to Damascus that it should not think even ‘one iota’ about using chemical weapons.
“Given the regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons,” US president Barack Obama warned just hours after the Pentagon cautioned Assad against using unconventional arms.
And, Israel has threatened war should long-time Assad ally Hizbullah in Lebanon obtain any of Syria’s chemical weapons. The Hizbullah terror organization has a history of targeting Israeli civilians and has fought more than one destructive war with Israel.
“In the moment we see that the Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hizbullah, this is a red line for us and from our point of view it‘s a clear ‘casus belli,’” Foreigh Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, using the Latin expression justifying war.
Meanwhile, fighting continues to rage in the once-impregnable Assad stronghold of Damascus, and the key economic center of Aleppo.
On Monday it was reported troops loyal to Assad used helicopter gunships to fire on dissidents and rebels as the regime finds fighting pitched battles in its two principle cities.
According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 19,000 people – most of them civilians – have been killed in Syria’s protracted popular uprising cum civil war.
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