Reports: Israel Bombs Assad Regime Chemical Weapons Facility

by PATRICK GOODENOUGH September 7, 2017

Ten years to the day after Israeli warplanes bombed a nuclear reactor in the desert of eastern Syria, the Jewish state on Wednesday night reportedly targeted another Syrian site, this time a facility in Hama province believed to be linked to the Assad regime's chemical and biological weapons programs.

The alleged bombing - reports by Arab media were not immediately confirmed - came hours after a U.N. commission of inquiry released a report accusing the regime of responsibility for last April's deadly sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun that prompted President Trump to order a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase.

According to the reports, the target of the Israeli bombing was a facility of the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC, aka CERS, the acronym for its French name) near the town of Masyaf.

U.S. intelligence has linked the SSRC to Assad's non-conventional weapons programs. The George W. Bush administration in 2005 designated the SSRC under executive order 13382, which deals with support for weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

The U.S. Treasury Department, when designating SSRC subsidiaries two years later, described the SSRC as "the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them."

It said that while the center has an overt civilian research function, "its activities focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons."

Three weeks after the Khan Sheikhun chemical attack last April, the Trump administration in response designated 271 SSRC employees, in what was called "one of the largest sanctions actions" in the history of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

"The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations in order to deter the spread of these types of barbaric chemical weapons," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at the time.

Up to now, rare Israeli military actions in Syria since the civil war began have mostly targeted shipments of weapons from Iran to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's terrorist ally, Hezbollah, whose arms buildup in southern Lebanon are seen to pose a direct threat to Israel.

But it has also suspected to have struck regime targets on occasion, including air bases near Damascus last February, a pro-regime militia camp near the Golan Heights in March, and the area near the Damascus airport in April.

Ten years ago, on September 6, 2007, Israel warplanes bombed a remote site in Deir al-Zour, northeastern Syria, where North Korea was suspected to have been helping the Assad regime build a reactor modeled on North Korea's own facility at Yongbyon.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigators later found unexplained traces of uranium at the site, and concluded in 2011 that the destroyed complex was indeed a nuclear reactor that Assad should have - but had not - declared.

Syria and North Korea both denied the claims.

The Assad regime insists that it surrendered all of its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), under a deal brokered by Russia in the fall of 2013.

That agreement was struck in an attempt to stave off U.S. airstrikes which had been threatened by President Obama after a sarin attack near Damascus killed more than 1,000 people.  

The OPCW later certified that all "declared" chemical weapons had been handed over for destruction, but a U.N.-appointed independent commission investigating the Syrian conflict said in the report Wednesday that it had documented 25 chemical weapons attacks in Syria between March 2013 and March this year, "of which 20 were perpetrated by government forces and used primarily against civilians."

Courtesy of     

Patrick covered government and politics in South Africa and the Middle East before joining in 1999. Since then he has launched foreign bureaus for in Jerusalem, London and the Pacific Rim. From October 2006 to July 2007, Patrick served as Managing Editor at the organization's world headquarters in Alexandria, Va. Now back in the Pacific Rim, as International Editor he reports on politics, international relations, security, terrorism, ethics and religion, and oversees reporting by's roster of international stringers.

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