Rebels could resort to chemical weapons, Syria warns
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Syria warned the world on Saturday that rebels may resort to using chemical arms after they captured a chlorine factory near Aleppo. The regime's words of caution come as rebel groups elected a former Assad military chief to lead their forces.
Syria warned the United Nations on Saturday that rebels may use chemical weapons after they gained control of a factory producing toxic chlorine east of Aleppo city.
The warning came as the rebel groups elected a former officer in President Bashar al-Assad’s army to lead their military command.
"Terrorist groups may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people... after having gained control of a toxic chlorine factory," the foreign ministry said, adding that Syria would never use chemical weapons.
The statement may be referring to the Syrian-Saudi Chemicals Company (SYSACCO) factory near the town of Safira, which was taken over earlier this week by rebel fighters from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front.
This factory, which produces sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride, is in an agricultural area and has been the subject of numerous complaints from farmers for polluting the local water supply.
The ministry sent separate letters to the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, reiterating that Syria would "not use chemical weapons under any circumstance, if they exist."
Syria "is defending its people against terrorism, which is supported by known countries, with the United States at the forefront," it added.
New rebel commander
On Saturday opposition sources reported that rebel groups have chosen Brigadier Selim Idris, a former officer in President Bashar al-Assad’s army, to head their new Islamist-dominated military command.
Idris, whose home province of Homs has been at the forefront of the Sunni Muslim-led uprising, was elected by 30 military and civilian members of the joint military command after talks attended by Western and Arab security officials in the Turkish city of Antalia.
“Saleh is not ideological, but he has been appointed by top aides who are close to Salafist rebels,” one of the sources who has been following the talks said.
The joint command named Islamist commanders Abdelbasset Tawil, from the northern province of Idlib, and Abdelqader Saleh, from the adjacent province of Aleppo, to serve as Idris’s deputies, the source said.
The unified command includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Salafists, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam. It excludes the most senior officers who had defected from Assad’s military.
Its composition, estimated to be two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, reflects the growing strength of Islamist fighters on the ground and resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.
Absent from the group is Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army and Brigadier Mustafa al-Sheikh, a senior officer known for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Asaad and Sheikh were not part of the 263-man meeting in Antalia. Also excluded was general Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect from the military since the uprising erupted in March last year.