Syria Update, December 6, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

7 Dec

Syria Update, December 6, 2012 (Institute of Middle Eastern, Islamic and Strategic Studies. By Sherifa Zuhur)

Early deathtoll: 68

Fighting is intensifying in the Damascus area.

According to a US source, Syria has loaded sarin into warheads.

Aleppo province: Snipers killed 2 civilians today in al-Amriya and Seif al-Dawla. Rockets killed 2 in B’eidan, and shelling on Bustan al-Qasr, Jisr al-Haj and Kallasa killed 4 civilians. The Syrian military tortured one civilian to death and his body was found at Aleppo University. Clashes took place in al-Sakhour and Jami`yat al-Zahra. 3 opposition fighters were killed in the province today.

Very heavy clashes took place at the Mengh military airport which opposition fighters have surrounded for the last 3 days. The Nusra Front fighters took over the electric generating station at al-Sfeira.

Damascus province: A sniper killed one civilian in Asali. An IED exploded and killed a civilian in Zahra. Syrian military gunfire killed one woman in al-Qadam. A large explosion thought to be a car-bomb rocked the Mezze 86 area, and one person was killed. The Syrian military shelled Hamouriyya killing one. An explosion near the Red Crescent center killed one. This was reportedly caused by the opposition.

The FSA shelled regime outposts today near the Damascus airport. Soldiers from the 41st battalion defected today after clashing with the FSA there.

Syrian military forces tortured one civilian to death after detaining him in al-Qara. Syrian military shelling killed one civilian at Hteitat al-Turkman. One civilian was found dead in Jdeidat Artouz, he had disappeared five days ago. The Syrian military killed two civilian males when firing on Sidi Meqdad, and shot one civilian in al-Buwaida. Clashes took place at the department of vehicle management between Irbeen and Harasta. The Syrian military shelled Douma, Harasta, Hamouriyya, Hteitat al-Turkman, Irbeen, Misraba, Thiyabiyya and al-Zabadani, as well as the orchards between Daraya and Kafarsousah. 6 opposition fighters were killed in clashes today in Douma, Beit Sahm, al-Thiyabiyya, the eastern Ghouta, and Medeira and two opposition fighters were killed in the shelling on Douma.

Dara`a province: 3 opposition fighters were killed in clashes with the Syrian military in clashes at the village of al-Qenya. Clashes were reported in Busra al-Sham today.

Deir az-Zur province: One civilian died the military shelling of the Ummal neighborhood. 1 opposition fighter was killed in clashes in Jbeila in Deir az-Zur.

Hama province: 1 opposition fighter from Hama was killed in an ambush on the Homs highway.

Hassake province: Gunmen kidnapped 5 Syrian Kurds today in Qamishli. There is an unconfirmed report that 3 opposition fighters were killed in Ra’s al-Ain. Clashes took place there at dawn. Opposition fighters attacked the Kurdish defense units.

Homs province: Syrian military shelling of the old neighborhoods of Homs killed one opposition fighter. A man died of his wounds after shelling on Karam al-Zaytoun in Homs. Shelling in the city killed one child from Talbisa.

Idlib province: The Syrian military shelled Ma`arat al-Nu`man killing one civilian and one opposition fighter. The Syrian military shelled Has, Deir Sharqi, Ma’arshamsha and Kafrouma. Clashes resumed near the Wadi al-Deif military base and the Hamidiyya checkpoint near Ma`arat al-Nu`man. 1 opposition fighter was killed at the village of Freika.

Latakia province: The Syrian military bombarded Ghemam and al-Qesf.

Raqqah province: One civilian died from wounds incurred in the shelling on Sabkha. Yesterday the Raqqa regional government members resigned, including the deputy governor of the province, Ali Hedad and 8 members of the executive council saying that the security services of the Syrian government are interfering with them.


The US State Department has expressed concern over groups like the Nusra Front in Syria, saying they are a small part of the opposition but could take advantage of the chaotic conditions.

Snipers have now killed 11 people in Tripoli, Lebanon in violence related to the conflict in Syria.’s-tripoli

The UK’s Europe Minister, David Lidington says he plans to urge European partners to lift sanctions against Syria in order to arm the opposition.

Ecuador says it has not offered amnesty to Bashar al-Assad who has reportedly sent his foreign minister to several Latin American countries, and it is thought this is an effort to find a place of refuge. He traveled to Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Lakhdar Brahimi (the UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria) said that Russia and the U.S. plan to bring Syria back from the brink in a “creative solution” after an unscheduled meeting on the sidelines of the OSCE in Dublin.

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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