Chemical scare pretext for intervention - Syria
A Syrian minister said Western powers are looking for ways to intervene in the country’s crisis.
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 al-Assad's deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.
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.
U.S. President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders have warned that using chemical weapons would cross a red line and have consequences, which they have not specified.
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 lives.
A senior Russian lawmaker and ally of President Vladimir Putin said Syria's government is incapable of doing its job properly, a sign that Moscow may already be trying to distance itself from Assad.
"We have shared and do share the opinion that the existing government in Syria should carry out its functions. But time has shown that this task is beyond its strength," Vladimir Vasilyev, who heads President Putin's party group in the State Duma lower house, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Syria's Maqdad said Western reports the Syrian military was preparing chemical weapons for use against rebel forces trying to close in on the capital Damascus were simply "theatre".
"In fact, we fear a conspiracy ... by the United States and some European states, which might have supplied such weapons to terrorist organisations 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 defence sources are vague and inconsistent.
The perceived threat may be discussed in Dublin on Thursday when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi to try to put a U.N. 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 Bashar al-Assad.
Brahimi wants world powers to issue a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a transitional administration.
In addition 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.
U.S. officials said Washington was considering blacklisting Jabhat al-Nusra, an influential rebel group accused by other rebels of indiscriminate tactics that has advocated an Islamic state in Syria and is suspected of ties to al Qaeda.
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 Qaeda" - a term often employed to refer to rebel forces.
Meanwhile, activists said the army pummelled 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.