Ex-Syrian general accuses Damascus of hiding chemical weapons

A former Syrian general who defected in 2013 claims that the country’s government could have retained chemical weapons after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the full destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal in 2016.

“They [the Syrian government] admitted only to 1,300 tonnes [metric tons], but we knew in reality they had nearly double that [amount of chemical weapons],” Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat told The Telegraph on Friday, claiming that Syria had “at least 2,000 tonnes” of chemical weapons.

Sakat, who used to serve as head of chemical warfare in one of Syria’s military divisions before he defected in 2013, claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad did not declare large amounts of chemicals, including several hundred tonnes of sarin nerve agent.

The OPCW announced in January 2016 that Syria’s entire chemical weapons arsenal had been destroyed. Because of the successful operation, the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

On 4 April, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces blamed the Syrian government for an alleged chemical weapon attack in Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib province in Syria. Damascus denied any involvement in the Idlib incident, saying that the Syrian government does not possess such weapons.

The alleged chemical attack in Idlib killed over 80 people.

Days after the Idlib incident, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the military airfield in Ash Sha’irat in Syria. US President Donald Trump said that the missile attack was a response to the alleged chemical weapon use in Syria’s Idlib.

Syria joined the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons after a chemical weapon attack in East Ghouta in 2013, when hundreds of people were killed. The United States and Russia negotiated an agreement that led to the eventual destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal by the start of 2016.

However, in June 2016, the US State Department released a report stating that Syria continued to use chemical substances against citizens, and could have retained a chemical weapons stockpile. According to UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo, UN and OPCW experts still cannot confirm the complete destruction of chemical weapon production facilities in Syria.