Syria has begun moving portions of its chemical weapons stockpile out of storage, according to officials with the United States.
It is not yet clear if the weapons are being moved as a safety precaution or for a more aggressive reason. Some analysts say that Bashar al Assad, Syria’s president, could use chemical weapons in an attack against rebel forces. Others say that Syria may be moving the arsenal to stop rebels from obtaining it, the New York Times reports.
“The truth is, we just don’t know,” a U.S. official said, according to the New York Times. “There’s a big gaping hole in what we know.”
Syria may have one of the largest undeclared biological and chemical weapon stockpiles in the world, which includes cyanide, mustard gas and sarin nerve agent. Some of the weapons have been moved near Homs, where some heavy fighting has taken place in the last few weeks.
“The Assad regime is losing control of its territory,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, according to the New York Times. “You don’t move this stuff unless you have to, and they obviously felt they had to move it.”
According to Jeffrey White, a former intelligence officer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, if the weapons are deployed to firing units, it may suggest they are being prepared for use. If the weapons are concentrated at a smaller number of secure areas, it would suggest they are being moved for security reasons, according to the New York Times.