A satellite image of al-Safir, Syria's main chemical weapons facility, near Aleppo.
A satellite image of al-Safir, Syria's main chemical weapons facility, near Aleppo. Photo by GlobalSecurity.org
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Western intelligence officials said that they have been seeing new signs of activity at Syrian sites used to hold chemical weapons, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The officials said they were not sure whether the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad were preparing to employ the chemical weapons, or rather use them to deter the West from aiding the rebels.

“It’s in some ways similar to what they’ve done before,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told the New York Times. “But they’re doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons. It’s not just moving stuff around. These are different kind[s] of activities.” 

The U.S. official noted that Assad forces are yet to take flagrant steps that would indicate that they plan to use the weapons, such as preparing them to be fired by artillery batteries. 

U.S. officials believe Syria potentially has dozens of chemical and biological weapons sites scattered across the country. Its stockpiles are thought to include nerve agents such as VX, sarin and tabun.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in September that Syrians have moved some of their chemical weapons capability to better secure it, but the country's main chemical weapons sites remain intact and secure under government control.

Panetta said U.S. intelligence showed the major Syrian sites were secure in government hands, but some chemicals had been moved.