Syria Says Opposition Could Use Chemical Weapons


UNITED NATIONS - Syria's U.N. ambassador is warning that extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government.

Bashar Ja'afari reiterated in letters to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, circulated Monday, that "Syria will not under any circumstances use any chemical weapons that it may have."

He said this is because the government is defending its people "from terrorists backed by well-known states, at the forefront of which is the United States of America." The Syrian regime and state media refer to rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Recent U.S. intelligence reports showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them. The reports drew a sharp warning from President Barack Obama, who said Syria's use or movement of its chemical weapons stockpile would be a "red line" and change his "calculus" about a conflict the U.S. has been loath to intervene in militarily.

Ja'afari said Syria's government is "genuinely worried" that countries supporting "terrorism and terrorists" could provide chemical weapons to armed groups "and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government."

He cited a report in the Turkish newpaper Yurt that al-Qaida members are producing chemical weapons in a laboratory near the Turkish city of Gaziantep which "they are threatening to use against Syrian civilians."

"It would be more appropriate for the states leading the campaign against Syria to monitor those actions and prosecute the terrorist perpetrators and the parties that facilitated their access to chemicals," Ja'afari said.

Ja'afari recalled that when U.N. monitors were in Syria, the government asked that a U.N. team visit a privately owned chlorine laboratory east of Aleppo "to inspect and secure the contents, which terrorist groups were planning to bring under their control."

U.N. monitors were unable to visit, however, because they came under fire "from terrorist groups," he said.

"The facility, which contains tons of toxic chlorine, was recently seized by terrorist groups," Ja'afari said. "The fact that they did so during this latest American and Western campaign means that the situation is all the more dangerous."

He expressed regret that no action has been taken to address these developments and hold rebel groups accountable.

"The government of the Syrian Arab Republic warns that the terrorist groups could use those weapons against the Syrian people," Ja'afari said.

The Syrian ambassador accused the United States of "amorality" in launching a campaign against Syria because it has used chemical and similar weapons, and he stressed that Syria submitted a draft resolution in 2003 on ridding the Middle East of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The council never took up the draft.

The Syria uprising started in March 2011 as peaceful protests but quickly turned into a civil war after the government's brutal crackdown on dissent. Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed.

On Sunday, fighter jets screamed over Damascus to bomb two areas in the southern part of the capital. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets carried out six airstrikes in the Hajar Aswad area and the neighboring Yarmouk Palestinian camp, where the rebels have been advancing.

The U.N. secretary-general spoke to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Monday morning to express concern about the escalation of violence in recent days and especially the attack on Yarmouk, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

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