Syria government still in control of chemical weapons: Israel

JERUSALEM Tue Jul 24, 2012 6:53am EDT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Syrian government is still in full control of its chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Israel's foreign minister warned separately that the Jewish state would act decisively if Syria handed over any chemical or biological weapons to its Hezbollah enemies.

"The worry, of course, is that the regime will destabilize and the control will also destabilize," the defense official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio.

But he added: "At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime."

Western countries and Israel have voiced fears that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militant groups as the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erodes.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said Israel would consider military action to ensure those weapons did not reach Assad's Hezbollah guerrilla allies in Lebanon. Israel says Hezbollah has some 70,000 rockets in its arsenal.

But Israel appeared to harden its line on non-conventional weapons reaching Hezbollah when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday that decisive action would have be taken against such a move.

"The moment we see Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah this is a red line for us. And from our point of view it is a clear casus belli. We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint," Lieberman said.

On Monday, Syria acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign nations intervened in the 16-month-old uprising against Assad's rule.

(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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