US warns Syria against using chemical weapons

Published Jul 24, 2012 04:31am

Israeli armoured personnel carriers (APC) drive along the Israeli-Syrian border near the Druze village of Buqata in the Golan Heights July 23, 2012. The "great threat" to Israel from the Syrian conflict is that the Damascus government may collapse and its stock of chemical weapons and missiles fall into the hands of the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. — Photo by Reuters

DAMASCUS: US President Barack Obama has warned Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad it would be a “tragic mistake” to unleash chemical weapons, after Damascus admits it has a stockpile and will use them if attacked.

The warning, a first admission by the Syrian regime that it has weapons of mass destruction, came as regime troops reclaimed to control most of Damascus after a week of heavy clashes.

Fighting was still raging in the country’s second city of Aleppo where rebels claimed to have captured several districts, and activists said at least 52 people, including 24 civilians, were killed in violence across Syria.

At a Damascus news conference Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Syria has chemical weapons and will use them if attacked by outsiders, though not against its own civilians.

Makdissi's remarks came amid growing international concern that Damascus is preparing to deploy its chemical arsenal in the repression of a 16-month uprising against the Assad regime.

“Syria will not use any chemical or other unconventional weapons against its civilians, and will only use them in case of external aggression,” Makdissi told reporters.

“Any stocks of chemical weapons that may exist, will never, ever be used against the Syrian people,” he said, adding that in the event of foreign attack, “the generals will be deciding when and how we use them.”

President Obama responded swiftly, warning Assad not to make the “tragic mistake” of deciding to unleash his stockpile of chemical weapons.

“Given the regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching,” Obama told an audience of US veterans in the western US state of Nevada.

“They will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons,” he added.

Israel has also stepped up the rhetoric against Syria, warning it could take military action if any of its advanced weapons end up in the hands of Hezbollah.

Makdissi stressed later in an email that Syria would “never use chemical and biological weapons during the crisis... and that such weapons, if they exist, it is natural for them to be stored and secured.”

A leading Syrian opposition leader warned however that the Assad regime was indeed capable of using chemical weapons.

“A regime that massacres children, that rapes women, can just as well use chemical weapons,” Abdel Basset Sayda told the Anatolia news agency.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the use of chemical arms would be “reprehensible”and stressed “all the countries have an obligation not to use any weapons of mass destruction, whether they are parties or not to any convention or agreement.”

Long Civil War

Meanwhile President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the Syrian regime's main international ally, warned of a protracted civil war should rebels be allowed to remove Assad from power.

“We are afraid that if the country's current leadership is removed from power unconstitutionally, then the opposition and today's leadership may simply change places,” Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying.

In that case “a civil war will stretch on for who knows how long,” the Russian leader warned.

Syrian spokesman Makdissi said Damascus firmly rejected a demand by the Arab League that Assad step down.

The Arab League had called late Sunday on Assad to “renounce power,”promising he and his family would be offered “a safe exit.”

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled for neighbouring countries in recent days after violence mounted, particularly in Damascus.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki instructed the country's forces and the Red Crescent to allow in Syrian refugees, reversing an earlier decision.

On the ground, government forces reclaimed most of Damascus, after a week of heavy fighting with rebels, who remain in the city but are planning a guerrilla strategy, activists and regime sources said.

A security source in Damascus confirmed the city had been reclaimed by government forces.

Elsewhere, rebels and troops clashed violently in Syria's commercial hub Aleppo, where the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) says a war of “liberation” is also underway.

The regime also used helicopters to pound the central city of Homs, symbol of the uprising, and nearby rebel-held Rastan, activists said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 54 people died in Syrian fighting on Monday, adding to the 19,000 whom the British-based watchdog says have been killed since the uprising began in March 2011.

The European Union on Monday beefed up sanctions against Assad’s regime and agreed to tighten an arms embargo by inspecting vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms, diplomats said.

Comments (7) (Closed)


Messam
Jul 24, 2012 07:33am
Was the US government held accountable to unleash Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Have they apologize yet to Japaneses? Is the USA not part of International community? Why US and its western and Arab allies providing weapons to the Syrian opposition? And why US and its allies and so called free media not listening to the demands of Saudi and Bahrain protesters who are peacefully protesting against the dictatorial regimes?
Search BurmaMuslims
Jul 24, 2012 07:47am
'WILD WILD WEST' is in progress.. Syria, with the current regime, always plays a wonderful role for Philistine; against Israel & its partners' interest. & that is the major point which support him. The majority of the people of Muslim countries never recognize (the untruth & modified) news from so called Independent or Reuters like news agencies. America & their allies are wanted to push the whole Syrian Peoples in the fire of long War with the help of their Arab (monarchy) partners. Syrian people must be understand what happen next, when NATO like forces put their foot on ground. Afghanistan, Pakistan & Iraq still paying a big price of their landing.
Mohammad B Khan
Jul 24, 2012 10:17am
MIGHT IS RIGHT,DONT FORGET IT.THIS IS THE ONLY TRUTH.
aMuslim
Jul 24, 2012 11:22am
who created this modern society? and who says that every country needs to be a modern society? history proves that since the beginning of time every culture has been diverse and didnt necessarily want to be like the other. sadly nowadays, with this "modern civilized society" theme its very easy to identify the difference and to use those differences to turn people against their own by giving them false hopes and promises. Sadly we have also seen in the past what happened to the culture that overthrew governments for outside intrests. this is not a syrian war this is a global power war and we have to decide what side we will be on when it effects us...till then unfortunately all we can do is watch and learn.
kka
Jul 24, 2012 05:23am
Assad must step down for the benefit of greater Syrian society. Civil war, massacre, destruction are not the theme of modern and civilized society.
Matthew Levi Lim
Jul 24, 2012 05:51am
Was the US government held accountable for invading Vietnam?
Syed (Australia)
Jul 24, 2012 07:02am
Why did US use atomic bomb during 2nd world war, for sure for its survival. So one should learn from history and Asad should make use of any weapon to save his legitimate rule.