BEIRUT: A research director at a military agency linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme was assassinated, a newspaper close to the Syrian government reported on Sunday.
The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported on its website that Aziz Esber, of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, died in a blast targeting his car Saturday night, in Syria’s Hama province.
It said Israel was suspected of carrying out the attack. There was no comment from Israeli or Syrian government officials.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria war through local contacts, also reported Esber’s death. It said he specialized in developing rocket systems at the center’s Masyaf facility in Hama.
Esber’s driver was also killed in the blast, according to Al-Watan and the Observatory.
Western and Israeli intelligence agencies have long linked the SSRC to Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
In April, the US, Britain and France carried out joint airstrikes against the centre’s Damascus facilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by government forces near the capital.
Israel is believed to be behind airstrikes targeting the centre’s facilities in Masyaf last month and last September. Israel has been carrying out strikes inside Syria to prevent advanced weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, an ally of the Syrian government.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview in June with Russia’s state-controlled NTV television channel that his government got rid of all its chemical weapons in 2013 and that allegations of their use were a pretext for invasion by other countries.
A UN investigative body determined the government used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.
The US leveled sanctions against 271 employees of the SSRC less than three weeks after the attack, saying the agency was responsible for “developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them.” Esber was not on the list of targeted individuals.
The US and its allies also blamed government forces for a sarin gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus in 2013 that killed around 1,000 people.