US warns Syria against chemical weapons

2012-07-24 07:43

Damascus - US President Barack Obama has warned Syrian strongman Bashar Assad it would be a "tragic mistake" to unleash chemical weapons, after Damascus admitted 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 on Monday, foreign ministry spokesperson 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.

'The world is watching'

"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 e-mail 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".

Putin's warning

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".

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.

Assad offered 'safe exit'

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

The Arab League had called late on 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.

19 000 dead

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 aircraft suspected of carrying arms, diplomats said.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, agreed to freeze the assets of 26 Syrians and three firms close to the Assad regime in the 17th round of sanctions imposed since anti-regime protests erupted last year.

EU officials also said the bloc was ready to evacuate its nationals from Syria via Cyprus if necessary. "We are prepared for the worst," said Cypriot Home Affairs Minister Eleni Mavrou, whose country currently holds the EU helm.

  • AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-24 08:06

    At least , here is a leader who is ,warning, this WAR MONSTER, that the world is watching him. That is a lot more than that Russian egg head !! The US and Europe should have done a lot more; and have taken out these assad terrorists. But the Syrian population is more determent than ever, that they want THEIR country back, and succeed they will. This asssad will go the same way as gaddafi; Along some deserted road, begging for his life, in exchange of stolen loot !!!

  • ghengis.khan.585 - 2012-07-24 08:40

    Sounds a bit like history repeating itself - while all of this goes on over 100 people die in more bomb blasts in Iraq. What is the total now? i think they have lost count of the number of people who have died as a result of USA invastion in iraq on the pretense of WMD. And now they want to do it again. Facts are, as much as the news wants to spin the humanitarian angle on the ignorant, these terrorists are being sponsored by USA, UAE, Quatar, to remove the government so that they can pursue their own agenda. Once they are done they are better positioned to take Iran. More facts, the Assad government has agreed to the Kofi Annan plan for democratic transition, it is the terrorists who do dot want this. Yes, the Assad regime must go, but have we not learnt that simply overthrowing the system in complexed regions will only lead to more bloodshed? The US should be convincing the rebels to go to the negotiating table, instead they are supporting them in killing more people. This whole fiasco is another LIE being spun on the ignorant. You only need to watch Al Jazeera for 15 minutes to see that only one side of the story is being told. When will we learn to see through the lies of the corporations who aim to manipulate and control the world for their own selfish gain?

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-24 08:48

      "As a result of the US invasion of Iraq". You're kidding right? You're saying the US is carrying out suicide attacks and planting car bombs. For heaven's sake, more particularly the sake of innocent Muslims being slaughtered by unelected dictators and Jihadists, wake up!

      ghengis.khan.585 - 2012-07-24 09:03

      Eh...Fred. You are joking, or are you really that ignorant? What i said was as a 'result' - result referring to the outcome of a certain action. Where people dying by the thousands before USA invaded Iraq ? Well, no they weren't. For the past 10 years they have been dying daily. Their entire lives in turmoil so that corporations can profit off oil. What you fail to understand is that this is a complexed tribal area. And so is Syria. It is through the power vacuum the US leaves in its wake that opportunities are given to Al Qaida and other fundamentalists to continue killing innocent people.

      GeorgeHumble - 2012-07-24 09:31

      Al Jazeera is a Qatar based news agency. They have their own agendas. I wont trust everything you read there as it reflects their views.

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-24 09:32

      america should be forcing assad to the negotiating table, not the rebels.

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-07-24 09:32

      Iraq is plagued with the same thing Pakistan ,Afganistan,Indonesia,Malaysia ,Nigeria and Somalia is , insurgents trying to impose their idealogy and seize power without a political process through the use of force and intimidation. For you to lump these atrocities under the responsibility of the United states is slanderous,deceitful and insulting to those working towards a independent, plural , peaceful and constitutional Iraq .Another strange divet in your theory of 'over-throwing' the system are numerous examples where this doesn't happen :In 1889, Brazil became a republic via bloodless coup; in 1999, Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan via a bloodless coup; and, in 2006, Sonthi Boonyaratglin assumed power in Thailand as the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy. Perhaps its not all the news thats wrong and its your 'facts' that make you one of the 'enlightened' and not one of the spinning ignorant. Your last line says it all , secret cabals controlling the world , claims of facts unknown to all but you , victim mentality and grand claims of imperial intent. I think you can safely take your theories to the street corner and put them on a carboard box with the other special kids.

      ghengis.khan.585 - 2012-07-24 10:06

      @Allcoveredinninjas: Let's stick to facts, as facts are the only reference to truth we have in a world of lies and deceit. Fact: The USA invaded Iraq on the pretense of Saddam Hussein having WMD, none were found. Fact: Halliburton, and more recently Chevron, BP, Shell, and Coastal benefiting from Oil drilling. Fact: over 600 000 people have dies as a result of the war. There is no exact count - but various surveys have been done (100 people died yesterday) Fact: These deaths did not occur under the Suddam Hussein regime Fact: I never said anything about 'secret cabals' (whatever that is) in my post. Yes, you are right in that there have been non violent coups. Not sure how that statement relates to the middle east as all these coups seem violent. If this war ends up effecting the whole wold it will be you and me that suffers and our suffering will be for the gains of corporations who want to control the region for their own power and wealth gains. So go ahead believing that the USA and it's euro partners are rich countries who have no interest in controlling the wealth of the middle east, and care deeply for the people that die everyday. The facts if you look them up tell a very different story.

      dawood.timol - 2012-07-24 11:10

      @ GeorgeHumble Al Jazeera is a American Jewish owned network...Ownership changed hands 6 years ago...maybe you should research b4 you thumb u not Humble anymore.

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-07-24 11:15

      "Fact: These deaths did not occur under the Suddam Hussein regime " Seriously! So the genocide , mass killings and torture , invasions of neigbours that costs millions of lives of Iraqi's , Iranians , Kuwaiti's , Kurds didn't happen? I could go through the rest of the facts but I rest my case.

      bradley.kecskes - 2012-07-24 11:19

      Oi!!! you do know the real Ghengis Khan was a great leader and visionary so why you even.....

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-24 17:16

      More proof that you're lying to yourself. Why would you want to do this? It keeps YOU ignorant and shows that you're uninformed. Number of unidentified bodies in unmarked graves during Saddam Hussein's rule, estimated by the Iraqi Government: 500,000 to 1,000,000. Number of Iranian deaths in Saddam's war on that country: 1,000,000, including many gassed to death. Minimum number of Iraqi Kurds gassed by Saddam Hussein: 70,000.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-24 08:52

    Unfortunately the use of chemical weapons is highly likely. The Colorado shooting by the gas-masked James Holmes (close to Homs) seems to be the harbinger of things to come. And the freer world will not intervene before it's too late.

  • martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-24 09:29

    tragic mistake is american code for we will fffff you up syria

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-24 09:31

      this is the kinda thing that could esculate into a 3rd world war, i mean russia is involved, china, america the EU, then we have israel and iran next door too, this could get really messy.

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-24 10:24

      what worries me is our governments alignment to brics, i am not on sa side at all under this current communist regim of the anc

      dawood.timol - 2012-07-24 11:31

      we are a minor ,very minor player in brics,but a respected one..we are allowed a fair playing field within brics..none of the brics members bullishly demand,or rape our country or continent..china puts back in the form of roads,schools,hospitals,interest free loans(yes, they like the US and Europeans want minerals and resources, but they do not rape our lands),that is why the entire Africa,South America,Middle East,Far East,and some European countries have welcomed them onto their shores...We have much more to gain economically,than frm the west..If the Western leaders are prepared to bail out big banks at the cost of their own ppl(austerity measures),then you think that these western governments have mercy for the rest of the world..this is further proved by the OWS(the blinkers are slowly but surely coming off-trouble in our own backyard)..S African whites need to realise that loyalty does not lie with skin colour, but with respecting each other(irrespective of colour)equally,whether it be trading,friendship or whatever..Western regimes have no respect for their own..They only protect big business and banks,hence filling their own pockets..Our problem in SA are our corrupt politicians...this is what we need to fight..Not the entire ANC is corrupt,but the few politicians taint the entire party...Whites should thank many ANC politicians for protecting their frail asses,cos pre 94',their hearts were in their mouths...but unfortunately their world is seen in blk & white.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-24 13:05

      Deadwood, You wrote this all by yourself ? But you could as well, in two sentences have said; I hate the USA ad Europe I love China!! Can hardly wait for your next comment !!!

      dawood.timol - 2012-07-24 14:16

      @ AnthonyfromAfrica Precisely,Your loyalties lie with your skin colour,irrespective of the war and mayhem they create around the world..that makes u a racist pig..Atleast China is putting back into African economies,unlike your warmonger brothers whom rape,usurp and thieve sovereign nations under the pretext of friendship..But looking at your response to my above comment,i'm actually wasting my time arguing with an empty only insult,cos you dont have the intelligence and ability to argue..Racist moron

      martin.britchford.5 - 2012-07-24 17:05

      what im kinda trying to get at is say this conflict did esculate to a world war, as a brics member we will be dragged in on the comunist side of things, i do not care about the colour of their skins, russians are white, but i will not fight with or for them, i am with free humans, i have no allegience to anyone but my own.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-24 20:28

      Dawood is still a genocidal racist. He's on record calling for the killing of all Jewish people. He has not retracted this and expressed remorse.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-07-24 20:31

      His whole premise, reflected in his words, is racist. This is his focus.

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-07-25 02:05

      Deadwood, Yes, you are wasting your time, because you got a hollow head!! BUT, A typical rssponse from a radical; FULL OF HATRED AND RACSIM !! China putting back in African economies ???? Where did you get this from ?? Some commic strip ?? China plunders Africa for its minerals. At least these 'dirty' Westerners with their investments, create direct and indirect, HUNDREDS OF THOPUSANDS of jobs in Africa !! Tell me WHERE in Africa, have the Chinese created even ONE JOB !! You call me a ; Racist moron; Let me tell you, radicals the world over, are all the same It is YOU who are the worst racists on this splanet!! But you continue entertaining your radical buddies, THEY are waiting for your next "pseudo intelligent BS commen

  • bradley.kecskes - 2012-07-24 09:54

    Dear O-Bomba....just make a crater out of Ass-ads position already.

      ghengis.khan.585 - 2012-07-24 15:24

      um...the Ass-ad thing you keep doing is not funny. Just thought to let you know you appear silly (like small child) rather than funny...

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