New satellite images reveal the damage caused to a Syrian chemical weapons research site after it was hit by Western jets on Saturday.
The targets included a centre in the greater Damascus area used for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weaponry as well as a chemical weapons storage facility near the city of Homs.
A third target, also near Homs, contained both a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and a command post. The US, UK and France said hundreds of missiles were fired at the sites, in response to last week’s chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta which left at least 40 dead.
State-controlled Syrian TV claimed Syrian air defenses shot down 13 missiles fired in the attack.
Pictures circulating on pro-government Twitter accounts showed a Syrian soldier standing next to what they claimed to be a missile fired from an American or British jet that had been intercepted, however experts said it looked to be an old Soviet air-to-air missile that was not involved in the attack.
The Pentagon said that it believes the airstrikes “attacked the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program,” significantly degrading Syria’s ability to use such weapons again.
Russian officials said the damage was minimal, maintaining that all key air bases were intact and the purported chemical weapons facilities had been abandoned long ago.
Capt. Adulsalam Abdulrazek, a former officer in Syria’s chemical program, said the overnight strikes probably hit “parts of, but not the heart” of the operation.
He said they were unlikely to curb the government’s ability to produce such weapons or launch new attacks.
Abdulrazek defected from the program in 2012, when he was based in eastern Ghouta, the suburb hit by a chemical attack in 2013 and allegedly again on April 7.
He said there were an estimated 50 warehouses storing chemical weapons before the program was dismantled in 2013. He said he believes those fixed storage facilities, mostly in rural areas, are intact or only slightly dispersed, and that the program was only partly dismantled because Damascus didn’t allow inspections.
IHS Jane’s expert Karl Dewey said the scientific research facility on the northeastern edge of Damascus is thought to have integrated chemical payloads onto artillery.
It is one of at least three sites that have been consistently referenced in association with Syria’s chemical weapons program, including Masyaf and Dummar, also known as Jamraya, both reported to have been hit by Israeli strikes last year.