Syria threatens to use chemical weapons if attacked
Posted Monday, July 23 2012 at 17:28
Syria admitted on Monday it possesses chemical weapons and warned it would use them if attacked though not against its own civilians, as regime troops battled rebels in Damascus and Aleppo.
The warning by foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi comes amid growing international concern that Damascus is preparing to deploy its chemical arsenal in the repression of a 16-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
"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 a news conference.
"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."
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."
Kassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the joint command of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), said Makdissi's remarks gave cause for concern.
"The regime admits having chemical weapons, and as it has not signed any treaties. That proves that it will not hesitate to use them," Saadeddine told AFP.
Makdissi's comments come a day after the United States said it would "hold accountable" any Syrian official involved in the release or use of the country's chemical weapons.
The ministry spokesman also said Syria firmly rejected a demand by the Arab League that Assad step down.
"We are sorry that the Arab League has descended to this level concerning a member state of this institution," he said.
"This decision only concerns the Syrian people, who are the sole masters of the fate of their governments."
A meeting late Sunday in Doha of Arab League foreign ministers issued a statement calling on Assad to "renounce power," promising he and his family would be offered "a safe exit."
"There is agreement on the need for the rapid resignation of President Bashar al-Assad," Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani said after the meeting.
Makdissi also vowed Syrian forces would soon regain control of several border posts that rebel forces seized along the frontier with Iraq and Turkey.
The rebels "will not hold onto them and they will be gone in a few days," he said.
On the ground, Syrian regime forces raided several districts of Damascus on Monday, including Mazzeh, where where a plume of black smoke could be seen after night-time clashes in the capital, an AFP reporter said.
Activists reported clashes during the night in Syria's second city of Aleppo, and a rights watchdog reported 18 people killed Monday across the strife-torn country, including nine civilians, six soldiers and three rebels.