Syria has started moving some parts of its huge stockpile of chemical weapons out of storage, American officials said Friday, but it was uncertain whether the transfer was a precaution as security conditions across the country rapidly deteriorated, or something more sinister.
Some analysts and lawmakers said Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, might use chemical weapons in a last-ditch attack against an increasingly potent rebel force, possibly as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Other officials said Syrian security forces might be moving parts of the arsenal to prevent it from falling into rebel hands.
Over the past four decades, Syria has amassed one of the largest undeclared stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the world, including sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide, the officials said. It is unclear which agents are being moved, how big the transfers have been, and where the weapons are being taken.
Israel and the United States have been monitoring movements of all Syrian weapons, and are believed to have allowed the Syrians to move some conventional weapons over the border into Lebanon without protesting, said one analyst with long experience in Syria, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The rationale for Israel’s not speaking up is that any interference would play into the government’s accusation that the entire uprising is an Israeli plot, the analyst said.
Syria's military deployed armoured vehicles near central Damascus on Monday as troops battled rebels around the capital in what activists said could be a turning point in the 16-month uprising.