Syria Update, September 18, 2012. (Institute of MIddle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

19 Sep

Syria Update, September 18, 2012. (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

Midday death toll: 72

Yesterday’s revised death toll: more than 170

Bushra al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad’s sister, has fled Syria for Dubai, taking her children with her.

Aleppo province: In Aleppo, clashes broke out between the Syrian military and opposition troops in the Bustan al-Qasr, Izaa the Hanano, Maysalun, Sleiman al-Halabi, al-Sukari, and Talfun al-Hawa’i neighborhoods. At least four civilians were killed as the Syrian military shelled al-Sukari, al-Sakhur and the Hanano areas. A sniper shot a woman in the Azamiyya neighborhood; a civilian died from his injuries after being shot by a sniper in Halab al-Jadida. The Syrian military shelled the Fordaws neighborhood, killing 1 civiian, and shelling and a sniper in the Itha`a neighborhood killed 2 commanders of the opposition forces. Clashes broke out near the Saba` Bahrat roundabout and the old Aleppo neighborhoods.
The Syrian military also shelled al-Ansari, al-Furqan, al-Kalasa, Karam al-Beik, al-Marja`, Sleiman al-Halabi, Qadi Askar, al-Sha`ar, and Tariq al-Bab neighborhoods.
The Syrian military and air force shelled al-Bab, Bayanun, Darat Izza, Hayyan, Hreitan, Manbaj, Mayar, Mare’, Qubtan al-Jabal, al-Safira, and Tal Raf`at, incurring casualties in Manbaj. The shelling on al-Bab and al-Hreitan killed 2 civilians. A child died of wounds from shelling on al-Safira.

A shell hit the field hospital in the al-Sha’ar neighbourhood, damaging the clinic.

Damascus province: In Damascus, at least seven people were killed in shelling as the army tried to push into the southern districts of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, Qadam and Assali and clashed with the opposition. Shelling was reported in al-Hajar al-Aswad and al-Qadam, killing an opposition fighter and a civilian in al-Qadam and 3 civilians in al-Hajar al-Aswad. Twenty unidentified corpses were discovered in al-Hajar al-Aswad. Six regime troops were also reported to have been killed. The Syrian military carried out raids and arrests in the al-Mazzeh area of Damascus.

The Syrian military shelled al-Duma killing three. An unidentified body was found near al-Qaws al-Gharbi in Mu`adamiyya and the Syrian military shelled Mu`adamiyya. Anti-regime protests took place in Hamouriya and Kafarbatna.

The Syrian military bombarded the town of Mleiha, killing 6 civilians. One civilian died from injuries incurred during shelling on al-Zabadani. The Syrian military shelled the Shab’a area, killing one.

Dara`a province: Five civilians were killed today and 3 unidentified bodies were found in the towns of Hrak and Saida.

The Syrian military shelled the neighborhood of Tariq al-Sad in the city of Dara`a.

In the town of Tafas, a sniper killed a sniper, and a child died of injuries received during the Syrian military’s shelling of the town. One civilian’s body was found near Kharbat Ghazala. The Syrian military shelled the Lijah area, the towns of Izr, al-Katiba, and al-Mta’iyya. The Syrian military arrested residents in the town of Kafarshams. The Syrian military shelled the town of Tal Shihab. Gunfire was reported in the towns of al-Yaduda and Busra al-Sham. The Syrian military raided homes and carried off residents in the town of al-Nemer.

Deir az-Zur province: The Syrian military shot two persons in the city of Deir az-Zur and shelled the neighborhoods of al-Shaykh Yasin and al-Hamidiyya.

The Syrian military shelled the town of Sur, killing 20 persons and not all have yet been identified. The Syrian military and opposition forces clashed in al-Bubil.

Hama province: The Syrian military shelled the towns and villages of Karanaz, al-Laj, Qastun and Shaghureet in Hama province. The Syrian military killed a woman in the village of Huweiz. Syrian military troop reinforcements arrived in the town of Morek and they carried out many home raids and arrests and fired on the town. The Syrian military also shelled the towns and villages of Arba`een, Kafarzeita, Shahshabo mountain, al-Jbeen, and al-Zakat.

Homs province: Heavy clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition took place in the Bab Houd neighborhood of Homs.

The Syrian military shelled al-Rastan and the village of al-Za’farana. A landmine exploded in the village of Jusiya, killing a civilian and injuring a child. Clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition broke out in the Hasia area, resulting in at least one death. The Syrian military shelled the town of Talbisa as well, and killed an opposition fighter in clashes at the edge of the town.

Idlib province: The Syrian military shelled the area near the al-Jeish al-Sha`bi headquarters in the city of Idlib and many arrests were reported in the northern part of the city.

The Syrian military shelled the towns and villages of Ihsim, Jabal al-Zawiya, Ma’rata, Mshmshan, Mhambel, Saraqeb, Tal Sultan, Taftanaz, and Tu’um killing at least 9 civilians including 6 women and 2 children in Tal Sultan. Shelling was also reported in Bsheiriyya in Jusr al-Shughur.

Latakia province: The Syrian military and opposition engaged in clashes in the village of Taymiyya in the Nahiet Qastal Ma`f. The Syrian military shelled the village of Shalf killing one.

Raqqa province: The Syrian military and opposition clashed at the perimeter of the military security headquarters in the town of Tal Abyad. The Syrian military fired on and shelled the town which is near the Syrian border. Reports were that opposition forces had taken control of the border crossing.

The Syrian military also shelled the town of Slouk resulting in two deaths.

Syria News:

SANA announced the Syrian pilgrims will not be allowed to travel to the hajj this year and blamed Saudi Arabian authorities.

Syria tested its chemical weapons delivery systems last month at Safira, near Aleppo, as reported late Monday by Der Spiegel. See below for more information on Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Borders: Iraq reopened the al-Qaim crossing, which has been closed for several weeks, but would not allow single men under 50 to enter.

Clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition took place at the Tal Abyad crossing (see above) which is about 60 miles (100 km.) north of the town of al-Raqqa. A Turkish official said that some houses in the town of
Akcakale on the Turkish side have been hit by stray bullets.

Important Facts About Syria’s Chemical Weapons (this week I will try to provide a similar update on nuclear and biological weapons)

*A test was reportedly held last month (August) and observed by Iranians. Der Spiegel said “Revolutionary Guards.” Or perhaps the Iranian scientists overseeing the latest phase of development.

*High-level meetings are occurring to determine what should happen to chemical weapons (and other WMD materials) if Assad’s government falls. Who will secure them. The opposition has said it is fully cooperative with efforts to secure these stocks.

International: The Syrian Contact Group or Syrian Quartet met in Cairo minus Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal (due to his medical condition, some news media said the deputy minister represented Saudi Arabia but AFP did not have that information). Iran, Turkey and Egypt expressed optimism that a diplomatic solution can end the crisis. Iran wants all 4 countries to dispatch observers to Syria.

Austria is doubling its humanitarian aid to Syria and Syrian refugees. The country will give 650,00 euros to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the remainder of an additional 1 million euros to NGOs working with the Syrian people.

*Syria’s chemical weapons program dates back to 1973.

*Syria’s current chemical weapons development is being supervised by Iranian scientists.

*Ever since 1989, the focus of the program has been on improving the accuracy and distance of potential strikes via the delivery system.

*Syria possessed 100 to 200 sarin-filled warheads in 2008 (six years ago).

*There is no strong evidence that Iraq’s chemical weapons were moved to Syria (although there is no proof they were not, one may surmise that Syria’s CW program is robust on its own).

Very important background on Syria’s chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities was provided by Anthony Cordesman in 2008

Citing from Syrian Weapons of Mass Destruction report:

Chemical Weapons
 Unconfirmed reports that first acquired small amounts of chemical weapons (Mustard and Sarin) from Egypt in 1973.
 Acquired design for Soviet Scud warhead using VX in 1970s. 
May have acquired chemical bombs and warheads for Scud missiles in 1979-1982. Reports had VX agents as
early as 1982 seem premature.
 Syria imports specialized glassware, suitable for chemical weapons production, from Germany in 1983.
 The NTI reports that a U.S. Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) issued on September 15, 1983, states that that Syria is “a major recipient of Soviet CW assistance, [and] probably has the most advanced chemical warfare capability in the Arab world, with the possible exception of Egypt. Both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union provided the chemical agents, delivery systems, and training that flowed to Syria. As long as this support is forthcoming, there is no need for Syria to develop an indigenous capability to produce CW agents or materiel, and none has been identified.” xxx
 Syria imports specialized glass ware, suitable for chemical weapons production, from Germany in 1983.
 Reports that began production of nonpersistent nerve gas surface in 1984. May have had chemical warheads for missiles as early as 1985. US intelligence sources confirm on a background basis that Syria has Sarin gas in 1986.
 The Nuclear Threat Initiative reports that,
 ―The Syrian CW program was established under the aegis of the Centre D’Etude et Recherché Scientifique (CERS), an ostensibly civilian research institute that appears to be responsible for all research, development, and production activities and facilities. Once the decision to proceed with a CW program had been made, it appears that the initial focus was the establishment of a facility for research and development, and possibly pilot production, in the Damascus area. This facility has continued to be used for CW-related research. Simultaneously, work commenced on the construction of larger dedicated CW production facilities. These plants in Al-Safira, Hama, and Homs all came online in the mid- to late 1980s. The first priority of the Syrian CW program was the production of sarin; initial, small-scale production appears to have started in 1984. Originally, this agent was to be carried by Syrian Air Force bombers, but this was an unreliable means of delivery given Israeli air superiority. Intense efforts were undertaken to provide a more dependable delivery system.
 By 1987, Syria was able to fit sarin-filled warheads, probably unitary rather than cluster, on some of its Scud missiles creating a limited long-range CW strike capability. Since that time, the focus of Syrian efforts has been on increasing the range and effectiveness of their strike capability by obtaining longer- range missiles from foreign suppliers such as North Korea and by improving the sophistication of the warheads. The fitting of bomblet-filled cluster warheads to Scud-C missiles after 1997 was a significant development that greatly increased the potential effectiveness of Syrian chemical weapons. Additionally, Syria has sought to increase the lethality of its force by developing V-agents. Syria has been researching this type of agent since the late 1980s. Throughout the 1990s, reports pointed to continuing work on V-agents but also suggested a lack of success…Following the successful weaponization of sarin in the 1980s, Syria turned to developing additional agents, most notably vesicants. Syria appears to have built up a stockpile of mustard and sarin for tactical uses in the 1990s. By the mid-1990s, the Syrian CW program seems to have reached a plateau in terms of capability and production. There is no current information conclusively suggesting that Syria is engaged in ongoing large-scale production and stockpiling of CW agents.

…Syria is currently believed to deploy between 100 and 200 Scud missiles fitted with sarin warheads. Some of these missiles may be fitted with V-agent warheads although this information is less reliable.

In addition, Syria is believed to have stockpiled several hundred tons of sarin and mustard agents for tactical uses in the form of artillery shells and air-dropped munitions. Syria retains its production infrastructure of at least three and possibly four facilities; however, it is not known whether these are currently being used to produce new agent. Syria conducted one missile test in July 2001, which probably involved the use of a simulated chemical warhead.[5] Since that time, the CW program has maintained a very low profile.xxxi
 Reports in1986 that Syria is helping Iran acquire chemical weapons technology as part of its support of Iran in the Iran-Iraq War.
 In December 1986, then Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin tells the Israel Knesset that, “we are aware that Syria is armed with chemical weapons—artillery shells, bombs, and ground-to-ground missile warheads…including nerve gas.” xxxii
 US intelligence officials testify to Congress in 1989 that Syria is stockpiling a variety of chemical weapons.
 Reports in 1990 that a classified DIA report states Syria has chemical munitions depots at Khan Abu Shamat and Furqlus, and that the primary chemical weapons development facility is the Centre D’Etude et Recherche Scientifique, near Damascus.
 In May 1992, Syria‘s Sema Ltd. Corporation obtains a 45-ton shipment of trimethyl phosphite, a the nerve gas precursor. Large German shipments of the same precursor are intercepted in July. Shipments of other precursors from Russia are detected in 1993. In October 1995Russia announces the investigation of Lt-Gen Anatoliy Kuntsevich for allowing illegal exports.
 Reports in June 1996 that a new major chemical weapons plant is under construction near Aleppo. Other facilities are reported in the general area of Damascus and Homs.
 Believed to have begun deploying VX in late 1996, early 1997.  The CIA reported in June 1997 that Syria had acquired new chemical weapons technology from Russia
and Eastern Europe in 1996.
 Unconfirmed reports in 1997 of sheltered Scud missiles with unitary sarin or tabun nerve gas warheads, now being replaced by cluster warheads with VX bomblets, deployed in caves and shelters near Damascus.
 Tested Scuds in manner indicating possible chemical warheads in 1996 and 1998, and possible cluster warhead in 20014 .
 Seems to have cluster warheads and bombs.
 May have VX and sarin in modified Soviet ZAB-incendiary bombs and PTAB-500 cluster bombs. Reports stated that a U.S. intelligence source had obtained information indicating a late October 1999 test of a live chemical bomb dropped by a Syrian MiG-23.xxxiii
 CIA estimates in January 1999 that Syria continued to seek CW-related precursors from various sources during the reporting period. Damascus already has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and may be trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment.
 The CIA stated that Chinese entities sought to supply Iran and Syria with CW-related chemicals during this reporting period.
 Convincing reports of covert imports of precursors in 2000 and 2003.
 In 2002-2006, a series of unclassified CIA reports confirms Syrian chemical weapons efforts in unclassified reports in 2003. A U S officials says on background that Syria may now have the largest inventory of chemical weapons in the world, but provide no details or comparisons with US, Russian, and Chinese programs. xxxiv
 On January 17, 2005, US officials deny there is valid intelligence that Iraqi chemical weapons were smuggled to Syria. The Iraq Survey Group report issued on April 27, 2005 is more ambiguous. It finds no evidence that such smuggling took place, but cannot exclude the possibility.xxxv
 Reports in 2005 that Iran will assist Syria in producing its own precursors for chemical weapons. Syria and Iran sign a new defense cooperation agreement on June 15, 2006.
 Syria conducts two long-range (600-700 kilometer) Scud missile tests in May 2005. Some reports indicate that they had cluster warheads.
 U.S. Department of the Treasury designate three Syrian organizations — the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology (HIAST), the Electronics Institute, and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory (NSCL) – as involved in proliferation on January 5, 2007.
 Major nerve gas and possible other chemical agent production facilities north of Damascus. Two to three plants.
 One facility is located near Homs and is located next to a major petrochemical plant. It reportedly produces several hundred tons of nerve gas a year.
 Reports on the building of a new major plant at Safira, near Aleppo.  Reports that a facility co-located with the CERS is developing a warhead with chemical bomblets for the
Scud C.
 Many parts of the program are dispersed and compartmented. Missiles, rockets, bombs, and artillery shells are produced/modified and loaded in other facilities. Many may be modified to use VX bomblets.
 Wide range of delivery systems:
 Extensive testing of chemical warheads for Scud Bs. May have tested chemical warheads for Scud Cs. Recent tests include a July 2001 test of a Scud B near Aleppo and a May 1998 test of a Scud C with a VX warhead near Damascus.
 May have started production of extended range Scuds in 2002.
 Shells, bombs, and nerve gas warheads for multiple rocket launchers.
 FROG warheads may be under development.
 Reports of SS-21 capability to deliver chemical weapons are not believed by U.S. or Israeli experts.
 Israeli sources believe Syria has binary weapons and cluster bomb technology suitable for delivering chemical weapons.
 Experts believe Syria has stockpiled 500 to 1,000 metric tons of chemical agents. Holdings [are] thought to include persistent (VX) and nonpersistent nerve agents (sarin) as well as blister agents.

Basic Facts about Syria:

Population: 22,530,746 Ethnicities: Arab 90.3%, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7% Religious Groups: Sunni Muslim (74%, other Muslim (includes Alawite, Isma`iliyya, Druze) 16%, Christian 10%, Jewish (very small numbers).

Human Rights Situation in Syria 2012:

GDP Growth Rate: -2% (2011) GDP: $64.7 billion GDP Growth Rate: -2% (2011)
Unemployment: 8.3% Youth Unemployment (ages 15-24): 19.1% (female unemployment in that age category is 49.1%

Internet Users: 4.469 million (2009)Exchange Rate: 46.456 Syrian pounds per US dollar

Military Expenditures: 5.9% of GDP (2005)

Population Growth Rate: -0797.% (since the conflict)

Population Age Structure: 0-14 years: 35.2%; 15-64 years: 61%; 65 years and over: 3.8%
Literacy: male 86% female 73.6%
Urban Population: 56% of total (2010)

Syrian Arab Army (prior to the conflict) 220,000 regular and 280,000 reserves. Of the 200,000 career soldiers, 140,000 are Alawi.

Syria’s Golan Heights is occupied by Israel and 1,000 members of a U.N. Disengagement Observer Force patrol a buffer zone.

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