BEIRUT - Western powers are whipping up fears of a fateful move
to the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war as a "pretext for
intervention", President Bashar Assad's deputy foreign minister said on
He spoke as Germany's cabinet approved stationing Patriot
anti-missile batteries on Turkey's border with Syria, a step requiring
deployment of NATO troops that Syria fears could permit imposition of a no-fly
zone over its territory.
"Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the
hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its
people. We would not commit suicide," Faisal Maqdad said.
Barack Obama and other NATO leaders have warned that using chemical weapons
would cross a red line and "there would be consequences". Assad would probably
lose vital diplomatic support from Russia and China that has blocked military
intervention in the 20-month-old uprising that has claimed more than 40,000
Maqdad said Western reports that the Syrian military was preparing
chemical weapons for use against rebel forces trying to close in on the capital
Damascus were simply "theater".
"In fact, we fear a conspiracy ... by the
United States and some European states, which might have supplied such weapons
to terrorist organizations in Syria, in order to claim later that Syria is the
one that used these weapons," he said on Lebanon's Al Manar television, the
voice of Hezbollah.
"We fear there is a conspiracy to provide a pretext
for any subsequent interventions in Syria by these countries that are increasing
pressure on Syria."
Exactly what Syria's army has done with
suspected chemical weapons to prompt a surge of Western warnings is not clear.
Reports citing Western intelligence and defense sources are vague and
The perceived threat may be discussed in Dublin on Thursday
when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton meet international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi to try to put a UN
peace process for Syria back on track.
The talks come ahead of a meeting
of the Western-backed "Friends of Syria" group in Marrakech next week which is
expected to boost support for rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President
Brahimi wants world powers to issue a UN Security
Council resolution calling for a transitional administration.
to the possible use of chemical bombs by "an increasingly desperate" Assad,
Clinton said Washington was concerned about the government losing control of
such weapons to extreme Islamist armed groups among the rebel forces.
United States is considering blacklisting one group suspected of ties to al-Qaida. US officials confirmed that Jabhat al-Nusra, an influential rebel group
accused of indiscriminate tactics that has advocated an Islamic state in Syria,
was under review for blacklisting.
An explosion in front of the Damascus
headquarters of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent killed at least one person on
Thursday, Syrian state television said.
It blamed "terrorists from al-Qaida" -- a term often employed to refer to rebel forces.
activists said the army pummeled several eastern suburbs of Damascus, where the
rebels are dominant, with artillery and mortar fire. The suburbs have also been
cut off from the city's water and electricity for weeks, rebels say, accusing
the government of collective punishment.
Assad responded to past
warnings about chemical weapons by taking steps to secure them, according to
Israel's vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon.
"There is speculation that the
chemical arsenal will fall into the hostile and irresponsible hands of the likes
of al-Qaida or other terrorist groups. In the past, clear messages were relayed
to Assad on a number of occasions, and in response Assad in fact gathered up the
weaponry and separated the materials," Yaalon said on Wednesday.
say they have surrounded an air base 4 km (2-1/2 mikes) from the center of
Damascus, a fresh sign the battle is closing in on the Syrian
Maqdad, in his interview on Thursday, argued that reports of
such advances were untrue: "What is sad is that foreign countries believe these
repeated rumours." But residents inside the capital say that the sound of
shelling on the outskirts has become a constant backdrop and many fear the fight
will soon come to Damascus.
The Western military alliance's decision to
send US, German and Dutch Patriot missile batteries to help defend the Turkish
border would bring European and US troops to Syria's frontier for the first
time in the 20-month-old civil war.
The actual deployment could take
"Some countries now are now supplying Turkey with missiles
for which there is no excuse. Syria is not going to attack the Turkish people,"
But a veteran Turkish commentator, Cengiz Candar of the
Radikal newspaper, said Ankara fears Syria's 500 short-range ballistic missiles
could fall into the wrong hands.
The government is "of the view that
Syria was not expected to use them against Turkey, but that there was a risk of
these weapons falling into the hands of 'uncontrolled forces' when the regime
collapses", he wrote.