The head of a Syrian research facility that western countries say was part of a chemical weapons programme has been killed in a car bombing, the pro-government Syrian newspaper al-Watan has said.
Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre in Masyaf, near Hama, which western governments say was a covert government installation.
Asber died after an explosion targeted his car in the Hama countryside, al-Watan said in an online report.
The attack was claimed by a Syrian group affiliated with the Tahrir al-Sham rebels. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as al-Qaida’s Syrian branch.
The Abu Amara Brigades released a statement on their Telegram channel saying they had planted explosive devices that detonated and killed Asber. The explosion occurred on Saturday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
The Masyaf research centre was targeted in Israeli airstrikes last month and in September last year, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
Sarin gas was being developed at the centre, according to the US, a claim denied by the Syrian authorities who say the country does not possess any chemical weapons after a 2013 agreement to hand over its arsenal.
The SOHR’s head, Rami Abdul Rahman, said experts from Iran, a Syrian government ally, were present at the Masyaf centre, which was developing short-range surface-to-surface missiles.
“The general was close to president Bashar al-Assad and to Iran,” the SOHR said.
Missile strikes by the US, Britain and France destroyed another Syrian scientific studies and research centre facility in Damascus in April, in response to a suspected poison gas attack.
An Israeli government official declined to comment on reports of Asber’s death when asked by Reuters.
Israel has carried out numerous raids inside Syria since 2017, according to the SOHR, targeting government forces and their allies from Iran and the Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.
Source: The Guardian