The head of a new unified military command of the Syrian opposition has denied reports that opposition fighters possess chemical weapons and intend to respond in kind if the Syrian regime uses them.
Brigadier Selim Idris, a former officer from President Bashar al-Assad's army who defected, told Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency that news reports that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has chemical weapons are not true.
The political adviser of the FSA recently claimed that the Syrian opposition is capable of putting together components of chemical weapons and using them if necessary. Bassam al-Dada told Anatolia on Wednesday that the Syrian opposition has the necessary capability and raw materials to produce chemical weapons.
He said if Syria's embattled president threatens the Syrian opposition fighters with chemical weapons, he should know that “we also possess them.”
“In our faith, we can't use such a weapon,” Idris countered. He said even if Assad's army uses chemical weapons against the opposition, the fighters will not attempt to acquire those weapons.
“While I'm hoping that Assad's army members defect, how can I use non-existent chemical weapons against them?” Idris added. Stressing that the use of chemical weapons is banned under international law due to their wide-range impact, Idris underlined that “we will not try to acquire them, will definitely not produce them or facilitate their production.”
Last month, Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, warned that extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government. He said the Syrian government is "genuinely worried" that foreign countries could provide chemical weapons to armed groups "and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government."
Although the West has shown little desire to intervene in Syria, US President Barack Obama has said the regime's use of chemical weapons against the opposition fighters would be a "red line" and change his "calculus" about the conflict.
As the prospect of intervention gains traction, the Syrian government has been careful to never actually confirm it has chemical weapons and is instead trying to raise fears it may be framed by opposition fighters using such weapons to spur an outside attack.
Recent US intelligence reports, however, showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.
The Syrian uprising started in March 2011 as peaceful protests but quickly turned into a civil war after the government's brutal crackdown on dissent. Activists say more than 60,000 people have been killed.