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Blast kills Syrian researcher

August 06, 2018

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BEIRUT: A research director at a military agency linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme was assassinated on Saturday, according to a newspaper close to the Syrian government.

The pro-government Al Watan newspaper reported on its website that Aziz Esber, of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, died in a blast targeting his car in Hama province.

It said Israel was suspected of carrying out the attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria war through local contacts, also reported Esber’s death. It said he specialised in developing rocket systems at the centre’s Masyaf facility in Hama. Esber’s driver was also killed in the blast, according to the newspaper and the Observatory.

An insurgent group calling itself the Abu Amara Brigades claimed responsibility for the operation. The group has previously claimed attacks targeting officials and militia commanders inside government territory.

Western and Israeli intelligence agencies have long accused the SSRC of carrying out Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

In April, the US, Britain and France carried out joint air strikes against the centre’s Damascus facilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by government forces near the capital.

Israel is believed to be behind air strikes targeting the centre’s facilities in Masyaf last month and last September. Israel has been carrying out strikes inside Syria to prevent advanced weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an ally of the Syrian government.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview in June with Russia’s state-controlled NTV television channel that his government got rid of all its chemical weapons in 2013 and that allegations of their use were a pretext for invasion by other countries.

A UN investigative body determined the government used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April last year that killed about 100 people and affected 200 others.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2018