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Syria-Iran weapons project is reported

LONDON - A Syrian military installation rocked by an explosion in July was being used to develop chemical weapons, and Iranian engineers were among those killed, a defense publication reported yesterday.

Jane's Defence Weekly said the July 26 explosion took place at the site of a joint Iranian/Syrian project to fit short-range ballistic missiles with chemical warheads. It cited Syrian defense sources as saying it happened during a test to fit a "Scud C" missile with a mustard-gas warhead when fuel caught fire at the production site.

"The blast dispersed chemical agents across the storage facility and outside," the publication quoted the sources as saying. The chemical agents included VX and Sarin nerve agents and mustard blister agent.

On the day of the explosion, Syria's state news agency SANA said the blast struck a military complex outside the city of Aleppo, killing at least 15 soldiers and wounding 50.

Jane's said that in addition to the 15 Syrian troops killed, "dozens" of Iranian weapons engineers were also killed.

It said the chemical weapons program was part of a strategic co-operation accord signed between Syria and Iran in November 2005.

Syria has never acknowledged it has any weapons of mass destruction and has called for ridding the Middle East of them.

W. Patrick Lang, the former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, questioned the veracity of the Jane's report.

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