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Syria'schemicalweaponsstockpile
30January2014 MiddleEast

LastSeptember,theOrganisationfortheProhibitionofChemicalWeapons(OPCW)
receivedaninitialdisclosurefromtheSyriangovernmentofitschemicalweapons
programme,thefirsttimethecountryhadmadeaformaldeclaration.Syriaalsosigned
theChemicalWeaponsConvention(CWC)andagreedtothedestructionofitschemical
weapons.
TheOPCWhasyettoreleasethedetailsofthedeclaration,leavingthesizeofSyria'sarsenal
subjecttospeculation.
Butexpertsbelievethestockpile,consideredtobeoneoftheworld'slargest,containstheblister
agentsulphurmustard,thenerveagentsarin,andthemorepotentandpersistentnerveagent
VX.

FollowingadeadlychemicalweaponsattackinDamascuson21August2013,theUnited
StatesandRussiaagreedaplanwithSyriatoremoveanddestroyitschemicalweaponsby
mid2014.
Weapondevelopmentanddelivery
TheUSstatedin2002thatSyriahada"longstandingchemicalwarfareprogramme",whichwas
firstdevelopedinthe1970s.ArecentreportfromtheUSCongressionalResearchService
saidSyriaprobablybeganstockpilingchemicalweaponsin1972or1973,whenitwasgivena
smallnumberofchemicalsanddeliverysystemsbyEgyptbeforethe1973ArabIsraeliwar.
Damascusstartedacquiringthematerialsandknowledgenecessarytoproducechemical
weaponsinthe1980s,reportedlywiththehelpoftheSovietUnion.Equipmentandchemicals
arealsothoughttohavebeenprocuredfromEuropeancompanies.
In2011,theUSdirectorofnationalintelligenceconcludedthatSyriaremained"dependenton
foreignsourcesforkeyelements"ofitschemicalweaponsprogramme,includingprecursor
chemicals,whicharegenerallydualusechemicalsthatcanbecombinedtoproduceblisteror
nerveagents.
Beforetheuprising,theSyrianScientificStudiesandResearchCentre(CERS)wasbelievedto
runatleastfourchemicalagentmanufacturingplantsatDumayr,KhanAbou,Shamatand
Furklusandoperateadditionalstoragesitesdispersedacrossthecountryinsome50
differenttownsandcities.
TheexactsizeofSyria'schemicalweaponsarsenalisnotknown,butinJune2012,Israel
DefenseForces(IDF)DeputyChiefofStaffMajGenYairNavedescribeditas"thelargestinthe
world".
AccordingtoaFrenchintelligenceassessmentpublishedinSeptember2013,Damascus
hasmorethan1,000tonnesofchemicalagentsandprecursorchemicals,including:
Severalhundredsoftonnesofsulphurmustard
Severalhundredsoftonnesofsarin
SeveraltensoftonnesofVX
AccordingtotheWhiteHouse,theSyrianmilitaryhasaccessto"thousandsofmunitions"that
canbeusedtodeliverchemicalwarfareagents,includingavarietyoflongandshortrange
ballisticmissiles,aerialbombsandartilleryrockets.
Sincethebeginningoftheuprising,ammunitionscarryinglesservolumesarebelievedtohave
beendevelopedformorefocusedandlocaltacticaluse.
Regardingthechainofcommand,theFrenchintelligenceassessmentsaidthesectionofthe
Syrianmilitaryresponsibleforfillingmunitionswithchemicalagentsandforsecurityatstorage
sites"Branch450"oftheCERSwasstaffedonlybymembersofthepresident'sminority
Alawitesectandwas"distinguishedbyahighlevelofloyaltytotheregime".
"BasharalAssadandcertaininfluentialmembersofhisclanaretheonlyonespermittedtogive
theorderfortheuseofchemicalweapons.Theorderisthentransmittedtothoseresponsibleat
thecompetentbranchesoftheCERS,"itadded."Atthesametime,thearmychiefsofstaff

receivetheorderanddecideontargets,theweaponsandthetoxicagents."

HumanRightsWatchsays330mmsurfacetosurfacerocketswereusedtoattackZamalka
inEasternGhoutaon21August.Atleastfourstrikesiteshavebeenfound.
Fromremnantsoftheweaponsfound,HRWhasreconstructedthecharacteristicsofthe
rocket.Itsaysitwascapableofcarryingupto60litresofchemicalnerveagent.
Thepayloadoftherocketconsistedofalarge,thinwalledcontainer.Asmallexplosive
chargeatthefrontwoulddetonateonimpactandrupturetheskin,dispersingthechemicals
inside.

Sulphurmustard
Syriaiswidelybelievedtopossesslargequantitiesoftheblisteragentsulphurmustard.The
term"mustardgas"iscommonlyusedtodescribetheagent,butitisliquidatambient
temperature.
Sulphurmustardsometimessmellslikegarlic,onions,ormustardandsometimeshasno
odour.Itcanbecleartoyelloworbrown.
Peoplecanbeexposedthroughskincontact,eyecontactorbreathingifitisreleasedintotheair
asavapour,orbyconsumingitorgettingitontheirskinifitisinliquidorsolidform.Itcauses
blisteringoftheskinandmucousmembranesoncontact.
Thoughexposuretosulphurmustardusuallyisnotfatal,thereisnotreatmentorantidoteto
mustardwhichmeanstheagentmustberemovedentirelyfromthebody.
Syriastartedtoproducetubeandrocketartilleryroundsfilledwithmustardtypeblisteringagents
in1993,presumedtobethefirstweaponisationofitskind.
Sarin
Sarinisaneurotoxicorganophosphoruscompoundthatishighlytoxicandlethal.
Itisconsidered20timesasdeadlyascyanideandisimpossibletodetectbecauseitisaclear,
colourlessandtastelessliquidthathasnoodourinitspurestform.Itcanalsoevaporateand
spreadthroughtheair.
Aswithallnerveagents,Sarininhibitstheactionoftheacetylcholinesteraseenzyme,which
deactivatessignalsthatcausehumannervecellstofire.Thisblockagepushesnervesintoa
continual"on"state.Theheartandothermusclesincludingthoseinvolvedinbreathing
spasm.Sufficientexposurecanleadtodeathviaasphyxiationwithinminutes.
Sarin,likeVX,isbelievedtobestockedina"binarymanner"bytheSyrianmilitary.Thismeans
itiskeptastwodistinctchemicalprecursors,whicharecombinedjustbeforeuse,either

manuallyorautomaticallyinsideaweaponwhenlaunched.
AccordingtoareportbyUNchemicalweaponsinspectors,thereis"clearandconvincing
evidence"thatsurfacetosurfacerocketscontainingsarinwerefiredatsuburbstotheeastand
westofDamascusinanattackon21Augustthatkilledhundredsofpeople.
AccordingtoUS,British,FrenchandIsraeliofficials,thereisalsoevidencethatSyrian
governmentforcesusedsarinagainstrebelsandciviliansonseveralpreviousoccasions.
FrenchintelligencesaidanalysisofsamplestakenfromthenortherntownofSaraqebandthe
DamascussuburbofJobarinAprilshowedthatmunitionscontainingsarinhadbeendeployed.
However,doubtshavebeenexpressedaboutthechainofcustodyofthosesamplesasthey
travelledfromtheiroriginallocationsinSyriatolaboratoriesinothercountries.
VX
VX,anotherneurotoxicorganophosphoruscompound,isthemosttoxicknownchemicalwarfare
agentabout10timesmoretoxicthansarin.

Itisanoilyliquidthatisamberincolour,andisodourlessandtasteless.Onceitisreleasedinto
theair,peoplecanbeexposedthroughskincontact,eyecontactorinhalation.
SymptomsappearwithinafewsecondsafterexposuretothevapourformofVX,andwithina
fewminutesafterexposuretotheliquidform.Aswithsarin,VXattacksthenervoussystem.
VXevaporatesaboutasslowlyasmotoroilandcanpersistforalongtimeunderaverage
weatherconditions,unlikesarin.Itthereforeposesbothashortandlongtermthreat.

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