Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center
The Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), or Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS, the acronym by which it is better known), is a Syrian government agency that has the goal of advancing and coordinating scientific activities in the country. It works on research and development for the economic and social development of Syria, especially the computerization of government agencies. It is considered to have better technical capacity and equipment than the Syrian universities. Jane's Information Group Intelligence Services and other analysts believe it is responsible for research and development of nuclear, biological, chemical and missile technology and weapons, including ballistic missiles, as well as advanced conventional arms.
The center was established in 1971, following a presidential directive in 1969. The first director-general was Abdullah Watiq Shahid, a nuclear physicist who had become the minister of higher education in 1967. The center was ostensibly a civilian agency but Shahid's aim was to pursue weapons development. In 1973 President Hafez al-Assad authorized relations between the center and the Syrian Army. The center then became the main agency for development and enhancement of weapons for the army. While the center remained ostensibly civilian, Ziauddin Sardar's 1982 book Science and Technology in the Middle East said the center "belongs to the Syrian defense ministry, and conducts military research."
In 1983 the military chief of staff was made responsible for appointing members of the center's board and technical staff. The military was also to authorize all appointments in the center's new branch for applied science, the Higher Institute for Applied Sciences and Technology (HIAST). The director-general of the center was raised to ministerial rank. The production of chemical weapons became one of the center's main projects. News media have reported production plants for sarin, VX and mustard gas near Damascus, Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia. Some or all of the plants were established ostensibly as civilian facilities.
Western intelligence agencies believe that the Syrian procurement structure for biological and chemical weapons uses the Scientific Studies and Research Center as cover. The center has received the required expertise, technology and materials from Russian sources to produce VX nerve gas.
On June 1996 the CIA had discovered that the center received a shipment of missile components from China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation as part as a wider collaboration between the two institutions.
In 2005, the US president George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13382, "Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and their Supporters," which prohibited U.S. citizens and residents from doing business with the SSRC. In 2007 the United States Department of the Treasury banned trade with three subsidiaries of the SSRC: the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology (HIAST), the Electronics Institute, and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory (NSCL).
In 2010, Nitzan Nuriel, the director of the Israel's Counter-Terrorism Bureau, said that the center had transferred weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah and that the international community should warn the Syrian government that the center would be demolished if it continued to arm terrorist organizations.
Syrian Civil War
On January 31, 2013, one of the center's facilities, located at Jamraya, was damaged by an Israeli airstrike which was believed to be targeting a convoy carrying advanced anti-aircraft weaponry from the Scientific Studies and Research Center to the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.
According to US intelligence reports, in August 2013, the Scientific Studies and Research Center prepared chemical munitions used for deadly chemical attacks which killed hundreds of Syrian civilians.
According to French intelligence, CERS is responsible for producing toxic agents for use in war, pinpointing "Branch 450" as being responsible for filling munitions with chemicals and also the security of sites where the chemical agents are stocked.
On 24 April 2017, weeks after the 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, the United States Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on 271 employees of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center for their alleged role in producing chemical weapons.
In September 2017 the Israel Defense Forces bombed a CERS military research facility near Masyaf, probably targeting an advanced missiles factory. Two Syrian soldiers were killed and the facility was severely damaged, with many weapons stored inside destroyed. Syrian media reported another Israeli attack in December 2017.
On April 14, 2018, several buildings alleged to be associated with the Syrian chemical weapons programme at the center's facility at Barzah in Damascus were destroyed during US missile strikes on chemical weapons sites. Other buildings within the larger complex were undamaged.
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