U.N. Inspectors Find Sarin and VX Nerve Agents in Underground Syrian Regime Lab

Syria's Douma chemical weapons.
Motorcyclists chat with a car driver in front of a damaged building in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka September 30, 2013. A chemical weapons watchdog has found traces of deadly chemicals in a Syrian regime lab, suggesting that it is continuing to develop chemical weapons. Reuters/Stringer

The Syrian regime is continuing to produce chemical weapons in contravention of the deal to hand over all of its stockpile for destruction, according to a confidential report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The report alleges that its inspectors traced the deadly nerve agents Sarin and VX to an underground Syrian regime lab, according to journal Foreign Policy, which has seen the paper.

OPCW inspectors told the Hague in April 2016, with Syrian regime officials present, of its findings at the Hafir 1 lab, which inspectors had not previously visited.

They confirmed that samples collected "contained indicators of Sarin and VX nerve agents, which suggest that chemical weapons may have been produced and weaponized in this facility," according to the report, produced by the OPCW's Declaration Assessment Team.

The OPCW team stated the regime was keeping warheads loaded with the chemical agents as an "insurance policy" against the opposition rebel groups fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The revelation means that the regime is potentially contravening a deal that saw international players strike a deal with the regime for it to disarm itself and hand over its entire chemical weapons stockpile. Damascus, in the early years of the conflict, had denied any possession of chemical weapons but eventually admitted to holding more than 1,000 tons of chemical material that could be used in weapons.

The agreement saw Syria join the Chemical Weapons Convention in the aftermath of the regime's infamous sarin gas attack on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The United Nations, the U.S., which supports the Syrian opposition, and Russia, a key ally of the Assad regime, facilitated the deal. The U.S. government estimated that the attack killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children.

Both the U.S. and the OPCW declared by January 2015 that all of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile had been destroyed but the latest findings by the chemical weapons watchdog suggests the regime has continued to produce chemical weapons in the event that they feel the need to utilize them against opponents.

On Friday, the United Nations and the OPCW held the Syrian regime responsible for at least two chlorine gas attacks against civilians, identifying two Syrian Air Force helicopter units and two other military battalions responsible for the attacks.

The most recent case of suspected chlorine gas use came earlier this month when activists and a monitoring group reported dozens of suffocation cases in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo after what they said had been a regime strike.

The conflict is continuing in its sixth year and a seven-day ceasefire came to an end on Sunday at midnight, with no sign of an extension in place. Opposition figures said they saw no point in observing the ceasefire amid regime violations and refusal to allow aid into Aleppo. The Russian government stated it was "pointless" for the Syrian regime to respect the ceasefire in light of alleged rebel violations.