Syria Update, December 4, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

5 Dec

Syria Update, December 4, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

Early death toll: 140 including 76 civilians (of these 16 children)

Yesterday’s death toll: 196 including 65 civilians.

Yesterday, Jihad Makdisi, the spokesperson for Syria’s Foreign Ministry resigned and defected, leaving for London. Last night the Syrian military burned his home in al-Mezzeh.

Syrian businessmen flee to Egypt.

Tales from the Nusra Front:

Important interviews on the situation in Syria

Aleppo province: The Syrian military shelled al-Sakhour and Bani Zaid today. Clashes took place in Bani Zaid, al-Sakhour and Masaken Hanano. The Syrian military targeted a bakery in al-Jamiliya today causing injuries. The Syrian regime forces shelled Bustan al-Basha, Bustan al-Qasr, Shaykh Khudr, al-Amriya, Sleiman and al-Halabi. The Syrian military carried out arrests in the al-Furqan neighborhood.

The Syrian military shelled the villages around the Ground Forces Academy in Aleppo yesterday. Opposition fighters surrounded the Mengh military airport. The Syrian military shelled the town of Daret A’zza.

Damascus province: The Syrian government accused the opposition of firing a mortar into a camp for displaced persons from the Golan, at Bteiha School in Wafideen killing 9 students and a teacher and injuring 25 children. The opposition assassinated journalist, Naji Assad Imam in Tadamon. He worked for the state newspaper Tishreen and was on his way to work. Syrian security forces carried out arrests in al-Qaboun today. An IED exploded in al-Fahama. A rocket fell on a car in Jarmana today killing the driver. Shelling on Jaramana killed two civilians today.

Heavy clashes took place on the road to Damascus airport.

The bodies of 9 unidentified men were discovered in al-Bahadiyya in Sayyida Zeinab.

The Syrian military shelled Harasta, Hazza, Hosh Arab, al-Zabadani and Zamalka. 4 civilians were killed in the shelling today on al-Mu’adamiyya. The shelling on al-Nabk killed 4 men. Syrian military shelling of al-Ebada, Jisreen and Shab’a, killed 4 children and 2 men. 8 mens’ bodies were found in al-Ebada. An opposition commander, Abu Ali al-Doumani was killed in the shelling on Jisr Misraba. 9 opposition fighters were killed in clashes in Douma, Daraya, Beit Sahm, Saqba, Sayyida Zeinab and Yalda.

Dara`a province: Syrian pro-Assad security personnel tortured to death a defector, Ibrahim Mansour al-Zoubani in a security compound in al-Yaduda. The Syrian military shelled Tariq al-Sad and Mukhayam al-Naziheen.

A child was killed by a land mine in the town of M’arba. The Syrian military shelled al-Katiba and al-Yadouda. Clashes took place in the town of Seida as the regime forces tried to take over the town.

Deir az-Zur province: Clashes in the city of Deir az-Zur killed 4 civilians, 5 opposition fighters and 4 regular troops. The Syrian military shelled Shaykh Yasin and al-Ardi and clashes took place in al-Jubayla and Muwathafin.
4 fighters of the Nusra Front were killed near Tabbani in late night clashes on the Deir az-Zur-Raqqa highway.

The Free Syrian Army was shelling the Deir az-Zur airport with mortar rounds yesterday

Hama province: An opposition attack on a military checkpoint in Tel al-Qabu killed one Syrian soldier. The Syrian military bombardment of Aqrab killed 3. A student was killed near a military checkpoint in the town of Helfaya in the morning. The Syrian military killed a man in Mazra’at Johar.

Homs province: A sniper killed one opposition fighter in the city of Homs. 1 civilian was killed in the neighborhood of Deir Ba`alba.
2 opposition fighters were killed in clashes near the southern entrance to Qal`at Husn. Pro-regime militiamen (shabiha) killed a woman and a man from Qal`a Husn today. 3 opposition fighters were killed in clashes outside the city of al-Qseir. The Syrian military shelling in al-Qseir and clashes there killed 4 civilians.

Hassake province: The Syrian air force carried out a strike on the Mahata district of Ra’s al-`Ain yesterday killing 12 people – four civilians and 8 opposition fighters – and injuring 30. Many of the wounded were transferred to hospital in Turkey.

Idlib province: The opposition seized a checkpoint at Basnaqoul. The Syrian military shelled the towns and villages of Has, Mar’ian, M’arata, al-Nirab and Qminas. Clashes are took place between the opposition and government forces near the Wadi al-Deif camp. The opposition shelled the al-Hamdiya military checkpoint with mortar shells and rockets. The Syrian military shelled M’arshourin and M’artam.

Latakia province: The regime forces shelled villages in Latakia today.

Refugees: 232 refugees fled to Jordan the night of Dec. 1st and 20 of the 51 families were headed by women.


NATO has formally agreed to deploy the requested Patriot missiles along Turkey’s border.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Foqh Rasmussen said that NATO allies are gravely concerned about reports that the Syrian government may be preparing to use its chemical weapons. Barak Obama, President of the U.S. had issued a stern warning to Syria and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he agreed with Obama that these weapons must not be used, nor reach “terrorist elements.” China and France also warned Syria today. A claim was made that government engineers were mixing chemicals to make sarin. (A different claim concerned moving of stocks).

Snipers shot two men in Tripoli, Lebanon in two areas one, Alawi and the other Sunni Muslim, in an extension of the fighting in Syria.

The United Nation’s UN’s World Food Program which is based in Rome, said it must suspend monitoring missions in Syria, is having much more difficulty sending food, particularly to the north of Syria, that its trucks are being attacked and is sending 7 staff to Jordan, retaining 20 international and 100 local staff in Syria.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs received the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition’s Shaykh Ahmad Maaz Khatib along with other National Coalition officials. In a press conference at the foreign ministry, the Minister urged the international community to adopt a unified position on the opposition and that Syria’s deterioration makes a political transfer of power urgent.

Making sarin is not a new activity in Syria:
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.

It should be noted that Syria also has a miniature neutron-source reactor at Deir al-Hajar near Damascus, built by China since 1991 and which went critical in 1996, and which now barely functions. It cannot produce fissile material and has been used for research and teaching purposes.

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.

Al-Kibar reactor: Chronology (IISS, Nuclear Programs in the Middle East in the Shadow of Iran, p. 77).

1997 Syria–North Korea nuclear cooperation probably began, according to US April 2008 briefing
26 May 2001 Satellite imagery shows no construction at site near al-Kibar
5 Sep 2002 Satellite imagery shows beginning of construction at site
2002 North Korea allegedly seeks to procure reactor components for Syria
2006 North Korea allegedly transfers cargo to Syria, ‘probably’ for al-Kibar
6 Sep 2007 bombs facility
11 Sep 2007 North Korean official news agency makes first foreign protest of intrusion into Syrian airspace
13 Sep 2007 Unnamed US officials claim Washington had accumulated growing body of evidence that North Korea was cooperating with Syria in developing a nuclear facility
20 Sep 2007 Syrian Ba’ath Party head flies to North Korea; Syria later denies reports that purpose of visit was to coordinate a response
20 Sep 2007 US President Bush makes no comment on Israeli attack but warns North Korea that the transfer of nuclear information is as serious as the export of nuclear materials
3 Oct 2007 North Korea reaffirms commitment not to transfer nuclear technology, materials or know-how in an agreement at the Six-Party Talks
10 Oct 2007 Syria destroys rest of bombed reactor
Jan 2008 Overhead imagery shows new building at site, probably for cover-up purpose
24 Apr 2008 US releases briefing concerning al-Kibar reactor
29 Apr 2008 CIA director says reactor would have produced enough plutonium for 1–2 weapons a year

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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