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Published: Saturday, 7/14/2012

Syria shifting its chemical weapons pile

Purpose of move unclear


WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials said Syria has moved part of its chemical weapons arsenal out of storage sites, a published report said Friday.

The country's undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas, and cyanide long have worried U.S. officials and their allies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Western nations have looked for signs amid the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government of any change in the location of those weapons, thought to be the world's largest stockpile.

U.S. officials are divided on the meaning of the moves of the arsenal. Some fear Assad may want to use the weapons against rebels or civilians; others said he may be trying to safeguard them from opponents, the Journal reported.

"We repeatedly made it clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons," said Victoria Nuland of the State Department, who was with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cambodia.

Ms. Nuland added, "The international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation." The Syrian government denied the stockpiles have been moved, the Journal said.

Meanwhile, reports of a massacre of about 200 people in Tremseh village drew global condemnation. Mrs. Clinton accused the Assad government of having "murdered" civilians.

Kofi Annan, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, said he was "shocked and appalled" by the reported massacre early Thursday, apparently the deadliest single attack since the country's uprising began in March, 2011.

Accounts differed starkly of who carried out the assault on the poor farming village in the central region of Hama.

Opposition activists accused government soldiers and militia fighters. The government's Syrian Arab News Agency blamed "terrorists."

Details of the attack could not be independently confirmed because Syria has restricted journalists' access.

Mrs. Clinton said the reported use of artillery, tanks, and helicopters provided "indisputable evidence that the regime deliberately murdered innocent civilians," Reuters reported.

"Those who committed these atrocities will be identified and held accountable," she said.

Mr. Annan also blamed the government.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, said a U.N. team had observed the fighting from three or four miles outside Tremseh and that it involved "mechanized units, indirect fire, as well as helicopters."

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