Syrian defector warns of chemical weapons

The most senior politician to defect from the Assad regime since the beginning of Syria's civil war recently said that the embattled leader would not hesitate to use chemical weapons if he felt cornered.

Nawaf Fares, the Syrian ex-ambassador to Iraq, said he has heard unconfirmed reports that chemical weapons have already been against the opposition, according to BBC.

"There is information, unconfirmed information of course, that chemical weapons have been used partially in the city of Homs," Fares said, BBC reports.

The ex-ambassador said he would not rule out Syria using its extensive chemical arsenal should the regime continue to face mounting pressure. He likened Syrian President Bashar al Assad to a wounded and cornered wolf.

Neighboring countries and key Western governments share growing concerns as to the fate of Syria's chemical weapons should the regime face imminent collapse. There are reports that the United States is preparing to secure at least a portion of the stockpile in an effort to keep it out of the hands of extremists, according to BBC.

The size and scope of the Syrian chemical weapons program presents an inherent difficulty in identifying, much less capturing, key facilities and storage sites.

"Syria is thought to have a number of major chemical weapon complexes, some in areas of current conflict, such as the Homs and Hama regions," Leonard Spector, executive director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said, BBC reports. "The bases are said to be guarded by elite forces, but whether they would stay at their posts if the Assad regime collapses cannot be predicted.

"U.S. officials believe Syria's chemical arms are stored in secure bunkers at a limited number of sites and have not been dispersed into the field."

Beyond information provided by intelligence services, there is little detail available about Syria's chemical weapons program. Unlike Libya, which was in the process of dismantling its program when the Qaddafi regime fell, Syria never signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and has never publicly declared that it possesses the weapons. Experts, however, agree that Damascus has amassed formidable stocks of various kinds of chemical agents.

"Syria has one of the world's largest chemical weapon arsenals, including traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern nerve agents, such as Sarin, and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX," Spector said, according to BBC.