'Scuds fired at rebels'

14 December 2012 - 02:02 By The Daily Telegraph, Reuters
Missiles. File Photo.
Missiles. File Photo.

SYRIA has fired Scud missiles on its own people for the first time in a sign of its increasing "desperation" to crush the rebellion.

And in a stark admission yesterday from a major ally of President Bashar al-Assad, Russia's Middle East envoy said Syrian rebels were gaining ground and might win.

"One must look the facts in the face," Russia's state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov as saying. "Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out."

Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister and the Kremlin's special envoy for Middle East affairs, said the Syrian government was "losing control of more and more territory" and Moscow was preparing to evacuate Russian citizens if necessary.

In a significant escalation, Western officials said that forces loyal to the regime had fired at least six of the Russian-designed ballistic missiles on rebel targets.

It means that al-Assad has now used every weapon in his arsenal, short of a chemical attack, to end the 21-month uprising.

A British foreign office spokesman said reports indicated that the first Scud was launched on Monday and that more had been fired since.

"The trajectory and distance travelled suggest these were Scud-type missiles," the spokesman said.

"It demonstrates the appalling brutality of the regime and its desperation to go to any lengths to deny his people their legitimate aspiration."

Nato confirmed on Wednesday night that surveillance had detected the launch of a number of missiles in Syria this week.

"Allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets have detected the launch of a number of unguided, short-range ballistic missiles inside Syria this week. Trajectory and distance travelled indicate they were Scud-type missiles," the Nato official said.

Syria has relied on war planes and helicopters to bombard rebel districts but Damascus denied accusations by US and Nato officials that it had fired Scud missiles.

The foreign ministry said the long-range missiles were not used against "terrorist groups", a term it uses for the rebels, who now hold an almost continuous arc of territory from the east to the southwest of Damascus.

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, used a Scud missile against rebels in Benghazi last year.

The last significant use in warfare was by Saddam Hussein in the Gulf conflict of 1991, including an attack on Tel Aviv.

"It indicates the diminishing capability of the regime's air force to hit rebel areas, either because they are running out of pilots or the rebel air defences are doing too much damage," said Benjamin Barry, a weapons expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a London think tank.