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U.S.: Syrians hiding Iraqi weapons for cash

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) -- Some U.S. intelligence agencies believe that rogue elements of Syria's ruling elite have accepted millions of dollars in bribes in return for providing a safe haven for some of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, according to former and serving U.S. officials.

Chemical and biological weapons were taken by truck to a Syrian munitions compound near a military base near Khan Abu Shamet, about 50 miles northeast of Damascus, these officials told United Press International.

The chief suspects in the operation are Bushra al Assad, the sister of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and her husband Gen. Assaf Chawkat, the No. 2 in Syria's military intelligence organization, the Mukhabarat.

U.S. officials -- most recently President George W. Bush -- have charged that Iraq is moving around production and storage facilities for chemical and biological weapons to hide them from U.N. inspectors charged with disarming the regime.

The allegation that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was trying to hide suspected weapons of mass destruction in Syria was first made -- somewhat hesitantly -- on Dec. 23 by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We are in the process of verification of these (intelligence) reports," Sharon told Israeli television. "What we assume -- and again I say, we have not yet finalized the reports -- is that weapons that he (Saddam) wanted to hide -- chemical weapons, biological weapons -- were indeed transferred to Syria."

The claim was repeated and firmed up by his foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, last month: "Those intelligence reports (about the alleged transfer) are solid," he said on Jan. 19, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

But the U.S. intelligence community is not so sure and appears to be divided.

At a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was questioned about reports that weapons of mass destruction had been moved around Christmastime from Iraq into Syria.

Armitage replied: "I would say there's been a debate in the administration ... (in) the intelligence community ... I don't think we know the definitive. I've seen the report you referred to. And I've seen other reports.

"Now, I can't give you a level of credibility on other reports as to whether missiles are in other countries. Those countries whom we've approached with our suspicions have vehemently denied (them)."

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