Is it now possible to identify where the Assad regime is holding its last chemical weapons stocks?
The head of the operation to remove chemical weapons from Syria offered clues on Thursday, as she said the remaining 8% of stocks cannot be moved because of fighting near Damascus.
Sigrid Kaag, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemicals, said the chemicals included ingredients needed to make sarin, used in the Assad regime’s attacks near the capital last August that killed hundreds of civilians.
Kaag said the 100 tons of material is “safe and secure” in an airfield controlled by Syrian forces not far from Damascus. She said they had been transferred another site about 19 miles away that has since been captured by insurgents.
She explained that roads to the facility were not clear: “There is a lot of fighting taking place. It’s not a situation where you would want a chemical weapons convoy passing through.”
Kaag said Syrian authorities had told her that military operations are underway to open the route. When this was achieved, “Syrians can very quickly deal with the removal,” meeting a June 30 deadline for the handover of all stocks.
SO WHERE ARE THE CHEMICAL STOCKS?
Kaag did not identify the exact location where the stocks are held, but there is a clue in an interview with Bassam al-Ahmad, the founder of the Violations Documentation Center, posted on Thursday by Syria Direct:
Q: More than 10,000 people were killed in the past year in Outer Damascus. Why so many there? One in four Syrians killed over the past year was in that area.
AL-AHMAD: Because Eastern Ghouta exists there. It faces daily bombardment and no single day passes without people getting killed in Outer Damascus.
It is very important militarily and it is blockaded. [Ed.: Here, al-Ahmed says the area is close to a highly sensitive site that he asks not be disclosed.]
The VDC is based in Douma, northeast of Damascus. Just north of the highway that runs past Douma are a series of military installations and tunnel complexes, identified as “Army Site”, “Army Terrain”, and “Army Storage Base” on Wikimapia.
Regime access to the area has been complicated since last autumn by insurgent advances between Douma and the town of Adra, which the opposition captured last December.
Another possibility is the Brigade 155 Base near Adra — although if we are right about the previous location of the stocks, it does not fit the distance given by Kaag.
WHERE WERE THE STOCKS BEFORE THEY WERE MOVED?
Kaag’s clues of a site “recently overrun by insurgents” and “19 miles” from the current position of the chemical stocks points to the desert area near Dumayr — 18.5 miles northeast of Douma.
Insurgents moved into the area in late April. They destroyed military checkpoints, seized weapons, and downed at least MiG jet.
Evidence pointing to Dumayr comes from a Reuters article last August, a week after the chemical weapons attacks near Damascus:
The (Scientific Studies and Research Centre), attacked by rebels and Israeli airstrikes earlier this year, oversees chemical weapons facilities in Dumayr, Khan Abou Shamat (12 miles from Dumayr), and Firaqlus, according to the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It set up facilities for blister agent, sarin, mustard and VX nerve gas, the Center said.
View Syrian chemical sites and air bases in a larger map