The Syrian army is believed to have tested missile systems for poison gas shells at the end of August, statements from various witnesses indicate.
The tests took place near a chemical weapons research center at Safira east of Aleppo, witnesses told SPIEGEL. A total of five or six empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents were fired by tanks and aircraft, at a site called Diraiham in the desert near the village of Khanasir.
Iranian officers believed to be members of the Revolutionary Guards were flown in by helicopter for the testing, according to the statements.
The Safira research center is regarded as Syria's largest testing site for chemical weapons. It is officially referred to as a "scientific research center."
Hoping for US Troops
Scientists from Iran and North Korea are said to work in the expansive, fenced-off complex. According to Western intelligence agencies, they produce chemical agents such as sarin, tabun and mustard gas and test them on animals.
In recent months, the guards have been replaced and reinforced by more than 100 elite troops from the 4th Tank Division. In addition, power generators and large supplies of diesel have recently been brought to the plant to safeguard the supply of electricity in the event of an attack by rebels, reports say.
But the rebels don't plan to take the site. "We hope American troops will secure the plant," said one former army officer who deserted and joined the Free Syrian Army. "We don't want the regime to be able to use the weapons, but neither do we want them to fall into the hands of radicals after the downfall (of the regime)."
Syria is believed to have one of the world's largest arsenals of chemical weapons.