Conflict & Justice

Syrian war intensifies, NATO warns Assad on chemical weapons


Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks at a meeting of foreign ministers from the 28 NATO member-countries at headquarters in Brussels on Turkey's request for Patriot missiles to be deployed protectively on the Turkish-Syrian border on Dec. 4, 2012.


John Thys

Fighting near government-held Damascus, including the international airport where airliners now refuse to land, entered its fifth day as reports of chemical weapons movement prompted a strong diplomatic response.

Mortar shells destroyed a school near Damascus, killing 29 students, the IBTimes reported on Tuesday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the attack, but it's unclear who is responsible.

Also on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Syria's beleaguered regime that the use of chemical weapons would result in swift intervention. Later in the day, Turkey's request to NATO for Patriot missiles to use for defensive measures was approved:

The missiles are meant to bolster Turkey's defense against strikes from Syria.

In Brussels before a NATO foreign ministers' meeting, Rasmussen told reporters: "The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community."

"If anybody resorts to these terrible weapons, then I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community," he said.

Syria never explicitly admitted having chemical agents, but it's believed they posses mustard and sarin gas. The CIA said these chemical weapons "can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile and artillery rockets," according to BBC.

Reuters quoted France's Foreign Ministry, reporting there were "possible movements on military bases storing chemical weapons in Syria."

Syria's foreign ministry, now without spokesperson Jihad Makdisi, issued a statement on Syrian and Lebanese television.

"Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people," the foreign ministry said.

On Monday, from the National Defense University in Washington, Obama warned Syria against using chemical weapons.

"The world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable," Obama said. "If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."

From Prague, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed Obama's warning.

"I am not going to telegraph any specifics what we do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but suffice to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur," she said.

This unified diplomatic opposition came as Russia, a stalwart ally of Syria, said it supported a diplomatic solution wherein President Assad relinquished power. 

‘'We are neither protecting the regime in Syria nor acting as their advocate, but remain worried about Syria’s future,’’ President Vladimir Putin said.