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Israel struck Syria to prevent revival of Assad's chemical weapons, report says

Opposition forces receive medical treatment after the Assad regime allegedly carried out a chemical gas attack in the de-conflict zone in Damascus, Syria on 20 July 2017 [Alaa Muhammed/Anadolu Agency]

Israel has reportedly conducted strikes against Syrian chemical weapons sites last year and this year, as concerns around the regime of Bashar Al-Assad's rebuilding of a chemical weapons arsenal continue to grow.

In a report by the Washington Post, which cited current and former Western intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Israeli airstrikes on Syrian military facilities in March 2020 and June 2021 were carried out to prevent the build-up of Assad's revived chemical weapons programme.

The first strike in 2020 hit a villa outside the city of Homs, which was known to previously be the centre of the regime's programme. The site was reportedly used for producing tricalcium phosphate (TCP), which has the potential to be converted into a primary material for sarin and other nerve agents – phosphorous trichloride.

The strike in June this year targeted a military storage bunker near the village of Nasiriyah, north of the capital, Damascus. It also targeted two other sites again near Homs, one of which was reportedly a facility in Masyaf used for the regime-affiliated Scientific Studies and Research Centre's (SSRC) military laboratory.

As a result of that last strike, seven Syrian military personnel were killed, including prominent Syrian officer, Ayham Ismail.

OPINION: One chemical weapons report should not whitewash a decade of Assad's crimes

The strikes were planned and conducted after Israel received intelligence that the Assad regime was attempting to rebuild and revive its chemical weapons program, which is claimed to dismantle and get rid of in 2014 following pressure by the United States and others in the international community.

According to the paper, the attacks also caught the attention of Western intelligence officials at the times of their occurrence, as they did not follow the usual pattern of Tel Aviv striking Iranian military sites or those of its proxy groups. In these incidences, the targets were strictly Syrian, which sparked curiosity.

Assad's reported attempt to revive and restock his chemical weapons arsenal comes at a time when his regime's use of those weapons against the Syrian civilian population continues to be heatedly debated.

While critics of the regime blame it for numerous chemical attacks throughout the ongoing decade-long conflict – including those after 2014 – Damascus and its supporters insist that Syrian forces did not conduct the numerous chemical attacks and claim that they were staged by Western intelligence and the Syrian opposition groups.

Over the past year, concern has grown over the status of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, with the United Nations also admitting, in January, that it is unsure whether Damascus has completely eliminated it.

READ: 'Syria has not disclosed its chemical weapons arsenal yet'

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