Syria Update, September 24, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

25 Sep

Syria Update, September 24, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies)

Death toll: More than 70

The Syrian ministry of information said its email had been hacked when an announcement was sent to say that Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon had been fired
Some of the half-million Palestinians in Syria have fled the conflict and others have joined in. The PFLP – General Command supports Assad, but others have supported the Free Syrian Army.

This video shows the brutality of Assad’s security forces and has been circulating yesterday and today.

A new report by Save the Children shows that children are being subjected to torture, imprisonment, abduction and are suffering from seeing the deaths of family members.

Aleppo province: The Syrian military shelled the neighborhoods of B’eidin, Bustan al-Basha, al-Fardows, al-Fyed Helk, al-Kallasa, al-Masharqa. Heavy clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition took place in Bustan al-Qasr and in al-Masharqa and Saba’ Bahrat.

An explosion shook the city of A’zaz. The Syrian military killed two children and a teenage boy at a checkpoint on the Aleppo-Mare’ highway. The Syrian military shelled the city of al-Bab. The brigades of the Free Syrian Army on the western side of Aleppo came out to demonstrate their unity.

Damascus province: Three unidentified corpses were found in Barza. Clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition took place in al-Hajar al-Aswad, killing several regime troops. A man who had been detained yesterday was found dead today in the Asali neighborhood. The Syrian military were destroying and bulldozing houses in the Qabun neighborhood of Damascus. A sniper shot a sniper in al-Jobar after midnight. An explosion took place in Qudsaya after midnight last night.

The Syrian military shelled the towns of al-Eteiba, Ma`adamiyya al-Shab, Jdaidat Artouz and Mleiha. The Syrian military executed six civilians in the town of Sabina near Damascus. The Syrian military heavily shelled Duma, killing 8 civilians, and shelled al-Zabadani and Yabrud and the farms between Duma and Harasta. The Syrian military carried out raids, arrests and burnt homes in the towns of Yalda and al-Zayabiyya The body of a man who had been executed, with his hands cuffed was found close to the Air Force Intelligence Department in Ma`adamiyyat al-Sham. The Syrian military killed an opposition fighter in the eastern part of al-Ghuta.

Syrian military at checkpoints in the towns of Adra and Qatana fired on and injured civilians. Clashes broke out between the Syrian military and the opposition in the town of Thiyabiyya.

An anti-regime demonstration was held in the town of Hamouriyya; people called for the end of the regime and for freedom. The Syrian military killed three men in shelling on the town of Zamalka

Dara`a province: The Syrian military shelled the Tariq al-Sad neighborhood.

The Syrian military and air force shelled Da’el, al-Karak, Mahaja, al-Na’ima, Shaykh Msakeen and the area of Wadi al-Yarmuk. A child died in Da’el from injuries from gunfire. An explosion shook the town of Tafas. One man was killed in Da’el. The Syrian military carried out raids on parts of Ibti’ and burnt homes there. An IED exploded, killing 6 soldiers in a military truck on the Shaykh Msakeen-Nawa road.

A Syrian military checkpoint was targeted in Busra al-Sham killing two Syrian regime troops.

Deir az-Zur province: Clashes took place between the Syrian military and the opposition in the al-Amal neighborhood. The Syrian military also shot at people in al-Amal, Ghassan `Aboud and Shar` al-Nahr.

Hama province: There were large explosions in the Tariq Halab and Ta’wuniyya neighborhoods of Hama. Clashes broke out in Tariq Halab and the Syrian military at a checkpoint in Tariq Halab shot and injured a man, his wife and child. Fierce clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition broke out in the Shaykh Anbar neighborhood. The Syrian military carried out raids and arrests in the al-Horaniyya neighborhood.

The Syrian military shelled the town of Tamani’a and heavily shelled the towns of Rabda and Abou Ramal.

Homs province: Clashes between the Syrian military and the opposition took place in Jobar, the village of Nqeira and al-Seltanieh. The Syrian military repeatedly shelled al-Qseir, killing 4 persons, one of them a 14 year-old child. The Syrian military shelled al-Sa’en and Teirmala, killing one in Teirmala. The Syrian military killed one person in Deir B’alba after detaining him for 10 days. The Syrian military heavily shelled al-Rastan.

Idlib province: The Syrian military shelled the villages and towns of al-Jabal al-Wastani, al-Jabal al-Zawiya, Kafruma, Ma`rat al-Na`san, Mushmushan and Ram Hamdan.

Latakia province: The Syrian military shelled the villages of Beit Ewan, Beit Fares, al-Khadra, and al-Midan.

Raqqa province: Heavy clashes took place between the Syrian military and the opposition near the outskirts of the al-Tabaqa airport. The Syrian military bombarded the town of Suluk after midnight last night. Clahes took place between the Syrian military and the opposition fighters in the towns of Tabaqa and Turkman.

Refugees: A demonstration at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan resulted in clashes with Jordanian security forces who prevented Syrian refugees from leaving the camp and used tear gas on them after some torched a tent. They were also protesting living conditions at the camp.

Lakhdar Brahimi told diplomats of the U.N. Security Council that he sees no easy solution, that Bashar al-Assad is intent on keeping the regime in place and that the government is using “medieval torture” on Syrians in secret detention centers. The U.N. General Assembly will meet on Tuesday and is expected to call for condemnations of Assad. Nevertheless Russia and China are firm in support for Syria and the following article (link) claims the German foreign minister called for following the six-point peace plan that Kofi Annan had developed

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Program

Syria’s chemical weapons program dates back to 1973 when Syria obtained mustard and sarin from Egypt. It is one of the strongest programs in the Middle East region. 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. Six years ago, Syria possessed 100 to 200 sarin-filled warheads (in 2008) there may be more today.

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).

Syria obtained the design for the Soviet Scud warhead using VX back in the 1970s. It appears that Syria has the capabilities to produce CW agents on its own; it has procued nonpersistent nerve gas since 1984. There is confirmation of its possession of sarin since 1986. Syria’s CW program began with CERS, its Scientific Study and Research Center in Damascus and later, plants in al-Safira, Hama and Homs were established.

By 1987, Syria had sarin-filled warheads on Scud missiles and since then its focus is to increase range and effectiveness of strike capability. After 1997, Syria obtained warhead that could be fitted with bomblet-filled cluster heads and Syria worked to develop V-agents. There appear to be stockpiles of mustard and sarin and the country may have between 100 and 200 Scuds fitted with sarin warheads. As well as sarin and mustard to use in artillery shells or other air-dropped forms. Syria recently conducted a missile test (in August of 2012); Iranians were reported to be present for the tests. Iran and Syria had signed a defense cooperation agreement in June of 2006.

Syria’s Biological Weapons Program

Syria is a signatory to the Biological Toxic Weapons Convention, but has not ratified that Convention. While its chemical weapons program is very advanced, its biological weapons program is also quite robust.
Israeli and German sources state that Syria has botulinum toxin, ricin and Bacillus anthracis, and some other sources state that Syria also has plague, smallpox, aflotoxin, cholera, camelpox and tularemia. Syria then, possesses A, B, and C pathogens and toxins. Syria has advanced pharmaceutical capabilities and thus could have (and according to some accounts has) obtained dual use equipment needed for pharmaceutical and defense research and development. It has research centers in Damascus and Aleppo. Certain U.S. sources are certain that Syria can produce anthrax and botulism, but what was not known is whether it has a formal program to develop delivery systems for these weapons. A 2004 Swedish Defense Agency report said there was no evidence of a defensive or offensive biological weapons program in Syria. However, the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the CIA, and the DIA have stated opinions to the contrary as have scientists and specialists. Other experts believe that Syria’s CERS (Scientific Studies and Research Center) has the capabilities and expertise to work on these systems, probably involving the use of drones and UAVs, or adapting warheads and cluster munitions to deliver the biological agents.(Cordesman, 2008) Russian advisors are said to be working with the biological warfare program. An American expert contends that there was a transfer from the Iraqi biological warfare (defensive and offensive programs), namely the camelpox virus.

Cordesman claimed that there were some indications that biological variations on ZAB-incendiary bombs and PTAB 500 cluster bombs and Scud warheads were being tested. Syria is technologically capable of designing adapted delivery systems which would have “the effectiveness of small theater nuclear weapons.” However he also noted that the Nuclear Threat Initiative held a far more restrained view of Syria’s capabilities in BW development.

A detailed, but accessible interview with Jill Dekkar is here:

Syria’s Nuclear Program and Development

Syria is a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Syria signed the NPT in 1968 and ratified it in 1969. Syria has a Comprehensive Nuclear Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Syria’s nuclear program began with nuclear physicist Abdullah Watiq Shaid who became minister of higher education in 1967. When the Scientific Studies and Research Center was established in 1969, Shahid became its director-general. The SSRC became the research facility to develop weapons for the Syrian army. For some time, its focus was on chemical and biological weapons, unusually housing chemistry, biology and armament departments together and using the cover that it was working on pollution and water purification. Chemical munitions were a major product.

The Syrian Atomic Energy Commission was created in 1979, and thereafter directed the nuclear research effort. Since 1979-1980, it studied nuclear power options, and the IAEA assisted the Commission since 1982, and in 1986 creating a facility which recovered yellowcake uranium from phosphoric acid, as Syria is an exporter of phosphoric acid-based fertilizers. With assistance from the IAEA, Syria acquired a cyclotron in 1996 and an ion-beam accelerator in 1997.

Syria tried to purchase reactors from various countries, including Argentina, but that sale was blocked by the U.S. In 1991 the Chinese constructed Syria’s research reactor at Dayr al-Hajar, a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor, not suitable for producing nuclear weapons.

Syria signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran in 1992 and a plan for (civil) nuclear cooperation with Russia in 1998. In 2004, Syria was thought to be negotiating with A.Q. Khan’s network. On April 22, 2004, an enormous explosion destroyed a North Korean freight train apparently transporting many Syrian nuclear technicians who had come to collect fissionable material. In Operation Orchard, The Israeli Air Force bombed the al-Kibar site in Syria on September 6, 2007, a building in northwestern Syria which was a reactor producing plutonium that had been built with North Korean support.

The Syrian government has denied these allegations. It allowed the IAEA to visit the site and take environmental which revealed the presence of man-made uranium and other elements suggesting that a reactor had been there. For three years Syria refused to cooperate sufficiently with the IAEA. The IAEA stated in May of 2011 “that it is very likely that the building destroyed at the Deir Azzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the Agency.” In June of 2011, the IAEA found Syria noncompliant and referred the case to the United Nations Security Council.

International concern circles around the fact that Syria had a concealed program and reactor, and therefore it may have been working secretly on other aspects of its program, or in other locations. The second major concern is that Syria has considered its chemical weapons to be a counterweight to Israel’s superiority in conventional weapons and thus an integral part of its offensive capabilities. The third major concern is what may happen to materials or facilities (as with BW and CW) in the case of regime change.

As for delivery systems for any nuclear weapons, Syria possesses several hundred Scud model B, C, and D missiles, and perhaps a thousand SS-21 missiles in addition to other airborne delivery (aircraft)systems. There is some evidence that Syria has had foreign assistance in upgrading its Scud model B missiles.

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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