WASHINGTON, September 12 (RIA Novosti) – A general in the opposition Syrian Free Army on Thursday accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad of moving its chemical weapons out of the country, even as US and Russian diplomats held talks on a Russian proposal to get Syria to place those weapons under international control.
“We have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and Iraq, and that is very, very dangerous,” Gen. Salim Idris said in an interview with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, adding that the rebels fear the Assad regime will “use these weapons against us.”
Idris spoke to CNN as US Secretary of State John Kerry began talks in Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Russia’s plan to secure Syria’s chemical weapons and prevent them from being used again in the Middle East country’s civil war.
The United States said it was prepared to launch limited military strikes on Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that Washington has blamed on the Assad regime. Syria and its ally, Russia, have denied the accusation, blaming the attack on rebels.
In a separate interview that aired earlier Thursday on National Public Radio (NPR), Idris said that “the Russian initiative” to prevent a US strike on Syria by getting Damascus to surrender its chemical weapons stocks “is just a lie, and the Russian administration, especially President Putin and Sergei Lavrov, are playing games.”
“They know that the regime in Damascus is a criminal regime,” Idris told NPR, accusing Assad of “killing his own people, using Scud missiles, using chemical materials, the air force to kill everything.”
In the NPR interview, Idris denied US media reports that the CIA has begun delivering weapons to the Syrian opposition, but when he spoke to Amanpour later, he refused to comment on whether US arms were getting through to the rebels after months of delays.
“We are getting now a lot of support from our American friends. We received some laptops, communication equipment, medicine, food – but I can’t talk about weapons, please,” he told CNN.
A report in the Washington Post on Thursday said shipments of light weapons and munitions from the United States “began streaming into Syria over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear.” The Wall Street Journal ran a similar report.
In both interviews, Idris said Syrian opposition fighters were “very frustrated” that US President Barack Obama had this week decided to delay seeking congressional approval for targeted US military strikes against Syria to give the talks in Geneva and a debate in the UN Security Council a chance to ensure that chemical weapons are not used again in Syria.
Opposition fighters “told me yesterday, ‘We can’t understand why Russia and the Iranians are supporting the regime so clearly and our friends are delaying and hesitating,’” he said on NPR.
Obama had indicated nearly two weeks ago that the United States was planning limited military strikes against Syria to hold the Assad regime accountable for allegedly using chemical weapons against civilians in an attack on Aug. 21, and to prevent further such attacks.
Russia has said repeatedly that the United States has no evidence to show the Syrian government was behind the attack. The Syrian government only admitted to having any chemical weapons at all after the Russian proposal was put on the table earlier this week.
Updates with claims of chemical weapons being moved, talks with Kerry.