Saturday, December 8, 2012

Chemical Weapons In Syria. Will They Be Used By The Assad Regime Or The Rebels?

Syria chemical weapons scare: Is Assad threatening to use them, or lose them? 

A report suggests that Syria has ramped up activity at chemical-weapons sites. But President Bashar al-Assad might simply be sending a message to the international community.

By Staff writer / December 6, 2012
NATO foreign ministers meet at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels Tuesday, when they agreed to send Patriot missiles to beef up Turkey's air defenses and calm Turkey's fears that it could come under missile attack, possibly with chemical weapons, from Syria.
Yves Herman/Reuters

Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons stems in part from worries that an increasingly desperate President Bashar al-Assad might use them against advancing rebel forces in the country’s 21-month-old civil war.


Syria 'planning chemical weapons'

Demonstrators pose with Syrian opposition flags at the site of buildings badly damaged by fire from a Syrian air force fighter jet. Photograph: Kenan Al-Derani/Shaam News/ReutersDemonstrators pose with Syrian opposition flags at the site of buildings badly damaged by fire from a Syrian air force fighter jet. Photograph: Kenan Al-Derani/Shaam News/Reuters

British foreign secretary William Hague said today he had seen “some evidence” that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons against rebels.
Mr Hague declined to give details of the intelligence, but again warned that Bashar Assad’s regime would face action if they were deployed.
American satellites and other tools have reportedly detected increased activity at several chemical weapons depots in Syria.
At least one military base is also said to have been ordered to begin combining components of Sarin nerve gas to make it ready to use.
The Syrian regime has denied any plans to use chemical weapons against it own people.
Speaking to the BBC at a security conference in the Gulf this morning, Mr Hague was asked whether he had seen proof that Syria was preparing such weapons.
“We have seen some evidence of that,” he said. “We and the US, as I said in parliament this week, have seen some evidence of that and that is why we have issued strong warnings about it. We have done so directly to the Syrian regime.”
Pressed on what kind of evidence he had seen, Mr Hague replied: “We absolutely cannot be specific about that because clearly those are intelligence sources that these things come from. But we have seen enough evidence to know that they need a warning and they have received that warning.”
Amid speculation that the regime could be targeted with airstrikes, Mr Hague said the use of chemical weapons would be a “major change in situation”.
Syria's Sarin, Chemical Weapons: FAQ
By Daniel J. DeNoon, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 6, 2012 — 

Syria's military is reported to be prepared to use sarin, a potent nerve gas, posing an obvious threat to Syrian civilians -- and to the rest of the world.
What is sarin? What other chemical weapons are in Syria's arsenal? Might the weapons fall into the wrong hands? See below for answers to these and other questions posed by this troubling development.
What Is Sarin?
Sarin, also known as GB, is a man-made nerve gas not found in nature. It's one of the most deadly and fastest-acting chemical weapons known to man.
Developed by a German chemist in 1938, sarin was too dangerous for its intended use as a pesticide. The Nazis developed sarin into a chemical weapon, but never used it.
Iraq is thought to have deployed sarin weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq also used sarin in an attack on its own Kurdish population. It was used in the subways of Japan in a domestic terrorist attack by an apocalyptic cult.
How Does Sarin Harm People?
Sarin is a close relative of organophosphate bug-killers, but is far more powerful. On humans, it has much the same effect as these pesticides have on bugs.
According to the CDC, sarin blocks the chemical "off switch" for glands and muscles. Muscles quickly fail, and a person who gets a lethal dose stops being able to breathe.
Chemical weapons typically use aerosolized sarin, which has no odor or color. People exposed to the vapor, or who get a drop or two of liquid sarin on their skin, die within minutes to 18 hours. Sarin could also be used to poison water or food.
Sarin evaporates quickly. Clothing contaminated with sarin gives off deadly fumes for about 30 minutes, posing a risk to rescue workers and medical personnel.
Why Worry About Syria's Sarin?
Leonard Spector, deputy director of the nonprofit James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, in 2011 reported that the U.S. government believes Syria has a large stockpile of chemical agents. These agents range from mustard gas -- infamously used during World War I trench warfare -- to sarin and an even more deadly nerve gas called VX.
Sarin is too corrosive and too dangerous to store in its active form. Weapons usually mix the final two sarin ingredients just before or during firing. News reports suggest the Syrian military already has begun mixing active sarin bombs to be loaded onto warplanes.
Use of such weapons would be an awful abuse of human rights. But that's not the only threat.
Spector says Syria has four or five chemical weapons plants near Damascus, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo. There's already heavy fighting in those areas. There's a risk that these weapons might fall into the hands of criminals or terrorist organizations, or that Syria might ship them to nations more likely to use them than the Syrians had been.
Journalist Elaine M. Grossman, writing for Global Security Newswire, says a highly placed defense expert told her that the U.S. government has "essentially about 10 plans now in the works" for dealing with various possible scenarios. Those plans, she notes, are highly classified.
What Is VX?
VX, invented by a British chemist in the early 1950s, is a nerve gas even more deadly than sarin. Like sarin, it is tasteless and odorless. Unlike sarin, it is thick and oily. It evaporates only as quickly as motor oil and thus can remain in the environment for months.
What Are the Symptoms of Sarin and VX Poisoning?
The first signs of poisoning with sarin or VX are a runny nose and pinpoint pupils. Those who do not get an immediately lethal dose will have trouble breathing, fluid in the lungs, sweating, and muscle twitching.
There are nervous system effects, such as fatigue, irritability, nervousness, and impaired memory. Survivors may have these symptoms six weeks after recovery from other symptoms.
What Is the Treatment for Sarin and VX Poisoning?
There are antidotes for nerve gas poisoning with sarin or VX: atropine and pralidoxime chloride. These antidotes must be injected very soon after poisoning occurs.
People exposed to sarin or VX can protect themselves by quickly moving to an area where there is fresh air. Both sarin and VX are heavier than air and settle in low-lying areas. So if outdoors, a person should move immediately to the highest ground possible. If sarin is released within a building, leave the building immediately.
After any sarin or VX exposure, it's important to remove all clothing and wash all skin areas with soap and water. Clothing that must be pulled over the head should be cut off. All clothing should be double bagged in plastic bags and left for professional removal.
Treat eye exposure -- symptoms are burning or blurred vision -- by flushing with fresh water for 10 to 15 minutes.
If sarin or VX is swallowed, do not induce vomiting, and do not give fluids to drink.
In all cases of exposure to nerve gas, seek immediate emergency medical care.
SOURCES: CDC web site: "Facts About Sarin," "Facts About VX."Global Security Newswire: "U.S. Anxiously Shaping Contingency Options for Syrian Chemical Arsenal."Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) web site.New Yorker web site: "The Syrian Sarin Threat."Spector, L. Foreign Policy, Aug. 23, 2011.Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATDSR) web site, "Nerve Agents."CNN web site: "Syria Mixing Chemical Warfare Agents, U.S. Official."
Sunday, December 09, 2012 

DAMASCUS: Syria warned on Saturday that rebels could use chemical weapons in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and insisted that the regime will never unleash such arms on its own people.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, however, said there was evidence the Damascus government could actually employ chemical weapons stocks in the conflict which a rights group says has killed at least 42,000 people in nearly 21 months. “Terrorist groups may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people... after having gained control of a toxic chlorine factory” east of Aleppo, the foreign ministry said, using the government term for rebel groups.

It added that Damascus would never use such weapons against its own people. The ministry was believed to be referring to the Syrian-Saudi Chemicals Company (SYSACCO) factory near Safira, which was taken over earlier this week by militants from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front. Syria “is defending its people against terrorism, which is supported by known countries, with the United States at the forefront,” the ministry said.

Global concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles grew after US officials this week privately said the regime had begun mixing precursor chemicals that could be used for the lethal nerve agent sarin. Some media reports said that the substance had been loaded into bombs for warplanes.

Hague said on Saturday there was evidence Syrian government forces could use chemical weapons against the insurgency.

“We are extremely concerned about the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and we are also concerned about evidence during the last couple of weeks that the regime could use them,” he told reporters in Manama on the sidelines of a security conference.

Hague said Britain had joined the United States in delivering a strong message to Assad’s government and that the global community had “contingency plans concerning chemical weapons but will not disclose them.” He cited several “dangerous scenarios,” including their “use by the regime” or falling into the hands “of other people.”

Washington has said the use of chemical weapons would be a red line but that it fears rebel battlefield advances could prompt the regime to use them, or that stocks could fall into the hands of groups hostile to the US and its allies.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Friday said it would be an “outrageous crime” if the regime used chemical weapons against the revolt. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog, asked Damascus to sign up to a convention banning their use, citing “serious concerns” that for the first time in the agreement’s history they might be used.

The opposition Syrian National Council said even neighbouring countries would not be spared if such weapons were used.

“We ask the countries of the world to act before disaster hits, not after,” SNC chief George Sabras said.

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