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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

US says Syria regime has chemical weapons for more attacks

But 'we’re looking at them and we’ll have the ability to strike them again, should it be necessary', Pentagon warns

Destroyed buildings in the formerly rebel-held Syrian town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 19, 2018. A chemical weapons attack on the town on April 7 prompted retaliatory western missile strikes on the Assad regime's chemical weapons facilities but UN investigators have not yet been able to visit the site of the attack. AFP
Destroyed buildings in the formerly rebel-held Syrian town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 19, 2018. A chemical weapons attack on the town on April 7 prompted retaliatory western missile strikes on the Assad regime's chemical weapons facilities but UN investigators have not yet been able to visit the site of the attack. AFP

The United States said on Thursday that while there were no signs that the Syrian government was preparing to launch a chemical weapons attack, they could still launch limited assaults in the future.

“They do retain a residual capability. It is probably spread throughout the country at a variety of sites,” said Lt Gen Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director at the Pentagon.

“I would not rule that out. However, as they contemplate the dynamics of conducting those attacks, they have got to look over their shoulder and be worried that we’re looking at them and we’ll have the ability to strike them again, should it be necessary.

The US, France and Britain launched strikes on Syrian chemical weapons plants on April 14 after a chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma on April 7 that killed scores of civilians, according to rescuers and ­activists.

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were still not able to reach the scene, 12 days after the suspected attack.

A UN spokesman said on Thursday that discussions were taking place in Syria’s capital with all key parties on security arrangements for inspectors from the UN chemical weapons watchdog to visit Douma.

Stephane Dujarric said at the UN headquarters that “due to the volatility” of the situation in Douma the UN did not want “to telegraph” when a security team would return to to see if conditions were safe for the inspectors to visit.

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A UN team touring the sites of the attack on Tuesday was shot at and subjected to a blast, but returned safely to Damascus, Mr Dujarric said.

Amid heightened concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons, three Belgian companies are set to be prosecuted for exporting chemicals to Syria, including a common substance that can also be used in the production of sarin nerve gas.

The case is due to commence on May 15 and will focus on the export of chemical substances between 2014 and 2016 to Lebanon and Syria.

“The companies had no export licence for these products,” a spokesman for the court said, referring to chemical group AAE Chemie and two handling agents, Danmar Logistics and Anex Customs.

The companies said they were unaware of the licence requirements they were claimed to have lacked.

Widely used as an industrial solvent and also in some medical products, isopropanol, or rubbing alcohol, is one of two key ingredients for sarin. Since 2013, companies need a licence to export chemicals to Syria.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons, including sarin, against his citizens.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian rebels in a town north-east of Damascus handed in their weapons and boarded buses to leave under an evacuation deal, state media reported on ­Thursday.

Fighters were to relocate with their families to opposition-held areas in northern Syria, effectively surrendering their town of Dumayr to the Syrian government.

The departure was likely to involve 1,500 fighters from the Jaish Al Islam rebel faction with 3,500 of their family members, said the state-run Sana news agency.

Their destination was ­Jarablus, a town under shared Turkish and Syrian opposition control near the Syria-Turkey border.

Dumayr, in the Qalamoun mountains, is minutes away from the Eastern Ghouta region, a former rebel enclave that came under full government control last week after a driving offensive that culminated in the chemical weapons attack.

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