Syria Update, October 14, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

15 Oct

Syria Update, October 14, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

Early death toll: 140 Syrians killed today.

Saturday’s revised death toll: More than 190 Syrians killed.

Aleppo province: A sniper killed 1 civilian from the Sakhour neighborhood in the Bab Hadid neighborhood and a sniper killed 1 in the Salaheddin neighborhood. Clashes took place in Arqoub and Karm al-Jabal and the Syrian military shelled the old neighbourhoods, al-Sha`ar, Ein Tel, B’eidin, al-Haydariyya, al-Intharat, Majreh and Tariq al-Bab. Clashes took place in al-Masharqa. The Syrian military took control of the Ummayad mosque (shown burning in videos) after violent clashes with the opposition, followed by the opposition’s retreat.

The Syrian military shelled the towns of al-Bab, Eran, Kaljebran, Tadef and the rural parts of al-Muhandisin. Violent clashes took place near the al-Nayrab military airport.

Damascus province: The Syrian military shelled al-Qadam killing 1 child. An IED explosion targeted the car of a lawyer in the al-Mazza neighbourhood. 100 bodies were discovered in a hospital located between Al-Mu’addamiyyah and Daraya. The Syrian authorities tortured to death one civilian from Jdeidat Artouz and the other was detained for a week and then shot. The Syrian military shelled the town of Hamouriyya killing 4 and shelled the city of Duma and the towns of A’rbin, Mesraba and those of al-Ghouta al-Sharqiyya.

Dara`a province: The Syrian military bombarded the towns of Heit, Um al-Mayathin and Naseeb . Violent clashes took place by the highway next to the town of Mahja, 1 soldier was killed and several military vehicles were destroyed. The Syrian military raided the town of Mahja, summarily executed 4 men there and burned houses. The Syrian military shelled the towns of Oum Walad and al-Na’ima. Heavy clashes took place between the Syrian military and opposition fighters in Tafs.

Deir az-Zur province: A rocket hit the Shaykh Yasin neighborhood of Deir az-Zur and shrapnel from that rocket killed an elderly man. Clashes occurred in Sheikh Yasin and near the al-Madalji roundabout.

Hama province: The Syrian military carried out raids and arrested civilians in the Kazo neighborhood of Hama.

A civilian from the village of Hurbanafsa was shot.
Homs province: The neighborhood of Jawbar was targeted today in an explosives barrage.
Unknown gunmen targeted a bus transporting workers on the Homs al-Mashrafa road near the village of Zeidal, killing one work and badly injuring 4 others..

Idlib province: The Syrian military retreated from a checkpoint near the radio broadcasting center at the outskirts of Saraqeb after the opposition took control of the oil factory’s checkpoint. The Syrian military killed 2 women and a child in shelling on the city of Ariha and clashes took place there. Clashes near the al-Duweila air defense base resulted in the death of an opposition leader. The Syrian military shelled Heish, Saraqeb, Ariha, Khan Shaikhoun, Kafrou’id, Ein Lazur, Ma`aret al-Nu`man and M’arshamsha.

Latakia province: The Syrian opposition has taken control of the al-Nabi Younis mountain near Latakia.

Raqqah province: The Syrian military conducted a prisoner swap, releasing 2 detainees who had been condemned to death for the killing of the son of Dr. Ali Shu`aybi.

International: Human Rights Watch has accused the Assad government of using cluster bombs. Cluster bombs have been banned by many nations. They have been widely used in Syria, for example in last week’s targeting of the Ma`arat al-Nu`man area. They are also being dropped by the Syrian military on the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Latakia.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi presented an unofficial but detailed proposal to UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on a way to solve the Syrian crisis. Salehi made general comments on Arabic-language television.
Lebanese and Syrian supporters of Bashar al-Assad held a rally in Beirut to thank Russia and China for supporting Assad, carrying posters that stated “Thank you Russia” and “Lebanon forever with Assad’s Syria.” The demonstrators chanted slogans against Saudi Arabia and Qatar and waved the flags of Iran and Hizbullah. Later, a protest was held against the Syrian regime by the supporters of Shaykh Ahmed al-Assir.

Turkey has banned Syrian civilian aircraft from its air space as a result of the incident in which Russian-made ammunition was detected on a civilian flight.

Jordan plans to set up a new refugee camp west of the capital, in the Mriget al-Fuhud area to house Syrian refugees. There are already 85,000 registered refugees and about 200,000 refugees in total from Syria now in Jordan. The new camp will relieve congestion in the Zaatari refugee camp.
The Israeli army has designated some territory near the border with Syria as an area for refugee outflow and the security buffer zone has been widened near Majdal al-Shams.
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).

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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