By Mick Krever, CNN
A defected Syrian general told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that Bashar al-Assad will never give up his chemical stockpile.
“The locations of most of the scientific research centers in Syria and the storage facilities are known and under surveillance, thus, he will give up those centers and facilities for sure without lying. That said however, Bashar al-Assad will not give up the chemical stockpile,” Syrian Brigadier General Zaher al-Sakat said.
General al-Sakat says that he defected from the Syrian military after he was ordered to use chemical agents; he says he swapped the chemicals out for something non-toxic to fool his commanders.
The general said that in addition to four secret locations within Syria, the regime is currently transferring chemical weapons to Iraq and Lebanon, an enormous claim that the commander of the opposition Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss, recently also made to Amanpour.
Lebanon and Iraq denied the claims at the time, and CNN's Barbara Starr reported that, if true, the allegation would fundamentally shift the assessments of U.S. intelligence officials.
Al-Sakat said that the oppositions’ intelligence monitored “twenty eight large trucks moving from Jdeedet Yabous, toward Lebanon, then to Hezbollah, which were heavily guarded. They also found in the Frouqlus area more than fifty large Mercedes and Volvo trucks, also heavily guarded, moving in the direction of Iraq.”
Al-Sakat said that the trucks were not attacked “so as not to spread chemical weapons or agents.”
The general said that they are unsure whether the trucks crossed into Iraq.
General al-Sakat recounted to Amanpour the events that he says made him defect.
“In the beginning of the protest,” he said, “the field commanders used non-lethal chemical harassing agents.”
“But when I was given an order by my immediate commander, Lieutenant General Ali Hasan Ammar, the commander of the fifth division, to use the lethal chemical agents,” he told Amanpour, “I replaced it with diluted bleach and buried those lethal agents in the ground.”
The chemical al-Sakat was ordered to use, he said, was not sarin – which was used in the now-infamous August 21 attack outside Damascus – but phosgene, a chemical first used in WWI that causes severe respiratory problems.
“We should distinguish between three kinds of Chemical weapons,” he said.
“First, the non-lethal harassing agents that were used in the beginning of the protests and were fired by automatic weapons and bombs to disperse the protesters.”
“Two, the incapacitating agents that were used in land mines which would produce a cloud of gas that spreads in an area, harming civilians.”
“Three, lethal agents such as Sarin and VX gas were used loaded into mortar shells, cruise missiles and weapons bays of fighter jets,” he told Amanpour. “I was given an order to use the number two stage of chemical weapons, and I knew then that this regime will end up using lethal chemical weapons against the civilians, therefore I defected.”
General al-Sakat claims that he was given the order to use chemical weapons by his direct commander, but lays ultimate blame at the feet of Bashar al-Assad.
“The decision to use the lethal chemicals weapons such as sarin, VX, and Iprit [mustard gas],” he said, “is a strategic-military decision that would be made by the Commander in chief of the armed forces, who is Bashar al-Assad. He is the Commander in Chief.”