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Thu May 07 04:34:58 SAST 2015

Chemical weapons fears rise

Reuters | 05 December, 2012 00:44
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad greets the crowd during his visit to Raqqa city in Eastern Syria
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
Image by: SANA / REUTERS

NATO told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday that any use of chemical weapons in his fight against rebel forces would be met by an immediate international response.

The warning from Nato secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen came as Syrian forces bombarded rebel districts near Damascus in a counter-attack to stem rebel gains around Assad's power base.

Syrian state media said a rebel mortar attack on a school killed 28 pupils and a teacher.

Concern over Syria's intentions has been heightened by reports that its chemical weapons have been moved and could be prepared for use.

"The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community and if anybody resorts to these terrible weapons, I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community," Rasmussen said at the start of a meeting of alliance foreign ministers in Brussels.

The chemical threat made it urgent for the alliance to send Patriot anti-missile missiles to Turkey, Rasmussen said.

The French Foreign Ministry referred to "possible movements on military bases storing chemical weapons in Syria" and said the international community would react if the weapons were used.

US President Barack Obama on Monday told Assad not to use chemical weapons, without saying how the US might respond.

The Foreign Ministry in Damascus said it would never use such weapons against Syrians.

Western military experts say Syria has four suspected chemical weapons sites, and it can produce chemical weapons agents including mustard gas and sarin, and possibly also VX nerve agent.

The fighting around Damascus has led foreign airlines to suspend flights and prompted the United Nations and European Union to reduce their presence in the capital, adding to a sense that the fight is closing in.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 200 people were killed across Syria on Monday, more than 60 of them around Damascus.

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