(JTA) — Syria has scattered its stockpile of chemical weapons in a bid to complicate U.S. efforts to track them, the Wall Street Journal reported.
A secretive Syrian military unit had been given responsibility to move the arsenal of poison gas and munitions, the Journal reported Thursday, raising questions about the viability of a Russian plan to secure the weapons.
Unnamed American and Middle Eastern officials told the paper moving the stockpiles could complicate a possible U.S. military strike on Syria in retaliation for President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons last month. Washington believes that about 1,400 people died in an Aug. 21 attack involving poison gas.
President Barack Obama has agreed to hold off on plans to strike Assad’s forces pending the implementation of the Russian plan, which calls for placing Assad’s suspected chemical weapons arsenal under international control and inspection.
The weapons, which used to be concentrated in the country’s west, have been deposited by Syria’s unit 450 in over 50 sites in Syria’s north, west and south, according to officials cited by the Journal. Despite the redistribution, both U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the weapons are situated, according to the Journal.
Obama has said that his military chiefs have assured him that any U.S. strike would not be degraded by delays.
Assad said Thursday Israel should be required to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, before Syria does. Also Thursday, Syria moved to join the United Nation’s Chemical Weapons Convention, a move seen as showing compliance with demands the country relinquish its arsenal.
Obama on Tuesday warned the Syrian government that Israel can defend itself with “overwhelming force” if attacked by Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, warned in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday that the Syrian rebels fighting to topple the Assad regime are preparing to strike Israel.
“Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored,” he wrote.