- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2013

Divisions of elite Syrian troops led by President Bashar Assad’s brother were likely responsible for the suspected chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb last week that killed more than 1,400 people, according to Syrian opposition activists.

Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother, commands the regime’s Republican Guard, the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division and special forces, which are tasked with protecting the regime.

All three divisions are suspected in the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in the east of Damascus on Aug. 21. Officers in these divisions predominantly belong to the Alawite Shia sect to which the Assad family belongs.

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Videos provided by Syrian activists show men wearing red berets, part of the Republican Guard’s uniform, at purported launch sites of the chemical weapons.

Abu Omar, a member of the Damascus Media Office, an opposition group that comprises activists and journalists, filmed from a rooftop less than five miles from the scene of the attack another video that purportedly shows part of the suspected chemical weapons strike.

The rockets that are believed to have carried chemical weapons were fired from the direction in which the Syrian special forces are based, Abu Omar, who used a nom de guerre out of concern for his family’s safety, said in a Skype interview on Friday.

A suspected chemical weapons site is located at Adra, a short distance from where the rockets were launched.

The Obama administration is weighing a punitive military strike against the Assad regime over the use of chemical weapons.

The White House released an assessment on Friday that concluded “with high confidence” that the Assad regime had “carried out a chemical weapons attack,” and that the regime’s chemical weapons personnel had been operating in Adra in the days leading up to the attack. The report is based on human, signals and geospatial intelligence.

“Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin,” the report says. “On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks.”

Adra is home to senior Syrian military personnel, factories and a notorious prison.

Kamal al-Labwani, a member of the Syrian opposition National Coalition’s defense and security committee, spent 10 years — from 2001 to 2011 — locked up at the prison because of his criticism of the Assad regime.

Mr. al-Labwani said the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, that is fighting on the side of the Assad regime, has a large training camp in Adra.

Ghouta lies roughly midway between Adra and Damascus, which are less than 15 miles apart.

“The bombing [of Ghouta] came from the area controlled by Assad’s brother and air force security,” Mr. al-Labwani said in a phone interview from Istanbul on Friday.

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