Syrian leader admits his government has chemical weapons but denies using them.
AMMAN: Syrian opponents to President Bashar Assad condemned Thursday his denial that his forces were responsible for chemical attacks in the war-torn country, and his skepticism that 1,400 people were killed.
“Does Mr. Obama really believe that the liar Assad, who denied his possession of chemical weapons, will give it all up?” said Badawi al-Mugarbil, 33, an activist in Homs. “What if he handed over a part of it and attacked more people with the leftovers?”
Assad sat down for an interview with Fox News following the release of a United Nations report citing “clear and convincing evidence” of the use of the nerve gas sarin in an attack that the United States says killed more than 1,400 east of Damascus on Aug 21.
Assad, simultaneously defiant and evasive, repeatedly pushed for the need of further “discussing details” but denied being responsible.
“We did not use chemical weapons in Ghouta,” Assad told Fox. “(It) would have harmed the troops, (it) would have harmed tens and thousands of civilians in Damascus.”
Assad acknowledged that his government has chemical weapons. “It’s not a secret anymore,” he said, referencing his government’s decision to join the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
Assad also said that the chemical weapons attack was a violation of international law. “That’s self-evident,” he said. “This is despicable. It’s a crime.”
But Assad said it is “realistically not possible” for his regime to have masterminded the chemical attack, saying it only made sense to use weapons of mass destruction in defeat or retreat.
In response to videos and pictures of victims that have surfaced online, he said: “There is a lot of forgery on the Internet.”
The U.N.’s report said the launching point of chemical weapon rockets used in the attack on Ghouta was traced back to the regime’s Republican Guard headquarters on Qasioun Mountain north of Damascus.
In addition, the report was skeptical rebels would have had the resources to launch an attack at that scale, which the opposition has been saying for months. But Assad said he calls sarin gas “kitchen gas” because anyone can make it at home, including rebels.
“Any rebel can make sarin,” Assad said. “These rebels are all supported by governments.”
Activists have expressed skepticism that the plan to dismantle the chemical weapons arsenal is little more than a ruse to delay decisive action from the international community.
“It wouldn’t delay or prevent Assad from committing more crimes against humanity, but it still follows the same pattern since revolution started which is giving (the regime) time and opportunities to kill more innocents while calculating their interests in region,” said Suzan Ahmad, a spokesperson for the Revolution Command Council in outer Damascus.
Questioned about whether the timeline, which would see the chemical weapons arsenal dismantled by mid-2014, was realistic, Assad was vague.
“We don’t have experience in that regard,” he said. “Some say it will take one year, maybe a little bit less, maybe a little bit more. In the end we will have to see an expert. They will tell us.”
Some Syrians said they don’t worry about this issue anymore.
“There is much more than chemical is killing us over here,” said Ekhlas Abu Rafee, 33, in Damascus. “There is no milk for my babies and everything costs twice what it used to. We don’t care for chemical weapons or America’s decisions – we need our kids to survive.”