WASHINGTON – The United States warned Syria Monday not to even consider using chemical weapons after Damascus raised the possibility of employing its stockpile of unconventional arms in the case of an outside attack.
“They should not think one iota about using chemical weapons,” Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters.
“We have been very strong in our statements inside the US government on the prospective use of chemical weapons and it would be entirely unacceptable,” Little said.
European Union foreign ministers branded as “monstrous” and “unacceptable” the threat by Syria.
“Threatening to use chemical weapons is monstrous,” said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a statement.
“It is unacceptable to say they would use chemical weapons under any circumstances,” echoed British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
In a statement issued after talks, the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers said: “The EU is seriously concerned about the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria.”
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be “reprehensible.”
“It would be reprehensible if anybody in Syria is contemplating (the) use of such weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons,” Ban told reporters in Belgrade on the fourth leg of his Balkans tour.
“I sincerely hope the international community will keep an eye on this so that there will be no such things happening,” he added.
Ban added that he had read that Syria might be tempted to use chemical weapons but could not verify if they had such a stockpile but nonetheless worried that Damascus is not a member of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog OPCW.
“What is (a) concern is that they are not parties to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” the UN chief said.
However, he stressed that “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”. The UN chief said he was “closely coordinating and consulting with all parties concerned, starting with the League of Arab Nations”.
The comments came after Syria acknowledged it has chemical weapons and said it would use them if attacked though not against its own civilians, amid a bloody conflict between regime troops and rebel forces. The warning by foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi coincides with mounting international concern that Damascus may deploy its chemical arsenal to crush a 16-month uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad.
Syrian troops were Monday battling armed fighters in parts of Damascus and the second city Aleppo, activists said, as the regime spurned Arab League calls for Assad to quit. The Arab League urged Assad to give up power, Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani said. Assad was promised safe passage if he steps down.
Syrian state television reported an assault on Mazzeh, calling the operation “targeted and quick.”
At a meeting in Doha, the Arab League also called on the Free Syrian Army to put together a transitional government of national unity.
Meanwhile, all sorts of rumors are floating concerning the whereabouts of Assad and his family.
Some believe that Bashar and Asma Al-Assad are hiding in a bunker deep beneath Damascus, others that the Syrian president and his wife have relocated to a heavily protected palace in the loyalist city of Latakia, wrote Nick Moe in The Telegraph.
Last week the country was rife with rumors that Asma herself had fled to Moscow with the couple’s three children, soon after the bombing that claimed the lives of four senior regime officials including her husband’s brother-in-law, leaving Assad to run the country without her.
Russia’s foreign ministry was eventually forced to deny it. “This is a bad-natured informational trap and I advise you not to fall into it,” said spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
As the fighting rages, Al-Arabiya published leaked emails of Assad’s New York-based media adviser. “The 22-year-old daughter of the Syrian envoy to the UN served as a media adviser to Assad during the height of an uprising that claimed the lives of 19,000 people since it erupted 16 months ago. But her work for the Syrian regime has put a heavy strain on her young life,” Al-Arabiya published on its website. – Agencies