x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

'Panicked phone calls' between Syrian defence official and chemical weapons head after attack

US intelligence services overheard a Syrian defence ministry official in 'panicked phone calls with the leader of a chemical weapons unit' after last week's deadly chemical attack, Foreign Policy magazine has reported.

A Syrian couple mourn in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds ahead of funerals following a toxic gas attack in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.
A Syrian couple mourn in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds ahead of funerals following a toxic gas attack in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.

WASHINGTON // US intelligence services overheard a Syrian defence ministry official in "panicked phone calls with the leader of a chemical weapons unit" after last week's deadly chemical attack, Foreign Policy magazine has reported.

"Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at Syria's ministry of defence exchanged panicked phone calls with leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people," the report on Tuesday said.

"Those conversations were overheard by US intelligence services," the magazine said in a statement. "That is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar Al Assad regime – and why the US military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days."

The report comes as US forces geared up to strike Syria, though the West insists its goal is not regime change but to punish Mr Assad's government for unleashing chemical warfare on civilians.

The ground for a military intervention was laid out by US vice president Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week's attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by Mr Al Assad's forces.