U.S. says closely monitoring Syria chemical weapons
Stockpile still believed to be under Assad control, but given regime's increasing attacks against its people, White House remains 'very concerned about these weapons.'
The United States is closely monitoring Syria's chemical weapons stockpile and is "actively consulting" Damascus's neighbors to stress concerns over the security of those weapons and Syria's responsibility to safeguard them, the White House said on Saturday.
"We believe Syria's chemical weapons stockpile remains under Syrian government control," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "Given the escalation of violence in Syria and the regime's increasing attacks on their people, we remain very concerned about these weapons."
That was the White House response to a question about a Syrian military defector's claim that President Bashar Assad's forces were moving chemical weapons across the country for possible use against the opposition in a military retaliation for the killing of four top security officials.
"In addition to monitoring their stockpiles, we are actively consulting with Syria's neighbors - and our friends in the international community - to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons, and the Syrian government's obligation to secure them," Vietor said.
Regional and world powers are now bracing for what could be the decisive phase of the conflict, hoping to wrench Assad out of power without unleashing a sectarian war that could spill across borders.
Opposition Free Syrian Army has formed a special unit, trained to secure Syria's chemical weapons sites, the Daily Telegraph has reported Friday, citing a former general in the country's chemical and biological weapons administration, Gen. Adnan Silou, who is also the most senior ranking member of Assad's regime to defect and join the rebel groups.
According to the report, Gen. Silou said he fears that with Assad's back against the wall, he might be tempted to use the chemical weapons against his own people, stating that he knows "Assad's character." In addition, Gen. Silou says that the weapons can be deployed from tanks, rockets and helicopters.
Israel said it would consider military action if needed to ensure Syrian missiles or chemical weapons did not reach Assad's allies in Lebanon, the Shi'ite Islamist movement Hezbollah.
"I have instructed the military to increase its intelligence preparations and prepare what is needed so that ... (if necessary) ... we will be able to consider carrying out an operation," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
Diplomacy has failed to keep pace with events. A day after Moscow and Beijing vetoed a UN resolution that would have allowed sanctions, the Security Council approved a 30-day extension of a small, unarmed observer mission, the only outside military presence on the ground.
"The regime is going through its last days," Abdelbasset Seida, the leader of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, said in Rome, predicting a dramatic escalation in violence.