As the West mulls how to respond to Syria's chemical weapons threat, chemical-loaded bombs are stored at air force bases, ready to be used, U.S. officials said.
Israel informed the Pentagon of satellite imagery in the last days of November showing Syrian soldiers mixing chemicals at two storage sites and filling dozens of 500-pound bombs, The New York Times said in a report published Tuesday.
Days later the munitions were spotted being loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases generating further concern, the report said. U.S. administration officials were told in briefings President Bashar Assad may order the weapons used if he becomes more desperate, adding the bombs could be airborne within two hours.
Shortly after President Barack Obama's public warning on the situation, there was an unprecedented show of international cooperation, the paper said. Private messages were relayed to Assad and his military commanders by Russia and other countries including Turkey, Iraq and possibly Jordan. This led to a halt in the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation, the paper said.
It is unclear how Israel, the United States and other allies will respond if the chemicals are used. While the chemical bombs are stored at Syrian air force bases, they can be loaded on planes quickly, the paper said.
Another concern that emerged is the short-range Iranian made missiles used by Syria in the past week. While none had chemical warheads, it showed the Syrian army is using more accurate weapons, the paper said.
Allied officials said whatever safeguards the Syrian government has taken, there remains great concern the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting the government or the militant group Hezbollah, which has established small training camps near some of the storage sites.