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Blast destroys Syrian weapons plant, spares missile assembly line

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

A huge explosion in a Syrian weapons complex has spared the nation's missile and weapons of mass destruction production line.

Western intelligence sources said a blast in late March destroyed a major factory and damaged several other buildings in a military industrial complex south of Homs was believed to have left the strategic weapons production line unaffected.

They said the assessment is that a conventional weapons factory was destroyed, Middle East Newsline reported.

"We are talking about a huge complex that covers many miles," a U.S. intelligence analyst said. "The building that we saw destroyed did not turn out to be in the area where we assess is the production of ballistic missiles or WMD."

The sources said U.S. satellite photographs recorded after the blast showed one building destroyed and several others damaged. They said the United States remains uncertain of what that building had contained, but intelligence agencies have concluded that it was not a missile or a WMD facility.

The explosion was reported to have taken place on March 24 or March 25 in the northern Syrian city of Homs. Western diplomatic sources said a factory in a huge Syrian weapons complex exploded, killing many of the technicians in the building and causing widespread damage. The sources said 35 people were believed to have been killed.

The sources said they did not know the cause of the blast. The Homs complex produces Scud C and D missiles as well as nonconventional weapons. Homs, with a population of about 500,000 people, is located 160 kilometers north of Damascus. The city has an oil refinery and is a major railroad junction.

U.S. intelligence sources said Syria maintains a missile test site 15 kilometers south of Homs. They said Syria has tested missiles such as the Scud C and Scud D as well as chemical warheads.

Syria also constructed missile factories in nearby Hama, about 110 kilometers north of Damascus. One factory is meant to produce solid-fuel missiles and the other is for liquid-fuel missiles. The solid-fuel missile is being developed with the help of Iran.

The Homs explosion was the latest in a series of accidents connected to Syria's weapons programs. In 1991, the Syrian Health Ministry closed down five pharmaceuticals plants, including one in Homs, during what Western intelligence agencies determined were tests of chemical weapons.

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