NATO says Syrian Scuds hit "near" Turkey

BEIRUT Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:26pm EST

1 of 16. Demonstrators hold a placard during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, after Friday prayers in Kafranbel near Idlib December 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Raed Al-Fares/Shaam News Network/Handout

BEIRUT (Reuters) - NATO accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces of firing Scud missiles that landed near to the Turkish border, in explaining why it was sending anti-missile batteries and troops to the bloc's frontier.

The Syrian government, which finds itself under attack from rebels in the capital Damascus and by a diplomatic alliance of Arab and Western powers, denies firing such long-range, Soviet-built rockets and had no immediate comment on the latest charge.

Admiral James Stavridis, the American who is NATO's military commander, wrote in a blog on Friday: "Over the past few days, a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria, directed by the regime against opposition targets. Several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome."

It was not clear how close they came. NATO member Turkey, once friendly toward Assad but now among the main allies of the rebels, has complained of occasional bullets and artillery fire, some of which has been fatal, for many months. It sought the installation of missile defenses on its border some weeks ago.

"Syria is clearly a chaotic and dangerous situation; but we have an absolute obligation to defend the borders of the alliance from any threat emanating from that troubled state," Stavridis wrote.

Batteries of U.S.-made Patriot missiles, designed to shoot down the likes of the Scuds popularly associated with Iraq's wars under Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, are about to be deployed by the U.S., German and Dutch armies, each of which is sending up to 400 troops to operate and protect the rocket systems.

The Syrian government has accused Western powers of backing what it portrays as a Sunni Islamist "terrorist" attack on it and says Washington and Europe have publicly voiced concerns of late that Assad's forces might resort to chemical weapons solely as a pretext for preparing a possible military intervention.

In contrast to NATO's air campaign in support of Libya's successful revolt last year against Muammar Gaddafi, Western powers have fought shy of intervention in Syria. They have cited the greater size and ethnic and religious complexity of a major Arab state at the heart of the Middle East - but have also lacked U.N. approval due to Russia's support for Assad.

Moscow reacted angrily on Friday to the way U.S. officials seized on comments by a top Kremlin envoy for the Middle East as evidence that Russia was giving up on Assad. Comments by Mikhail Bogdanov on Thursday in which he conceded Assad might be ousted did not reflect a change in policy, the Foreign Ministry said.

Assad's diplomatic isolation remains acute, however, as Arab and Western powers this week recognized a new, united coalition of opposition groups as Syria's legitimate leadership. Large parts of the country are no longer under the government's control and fighting has been raging around Damascus itself.

European Union leaders who met in Brussels on Friday said all options were on the table to support the Syrian opposition, raising the possibility that non-lethal military equipment or even arms could eventually be supplied.

In their strongest statement of support for the Syrian opposition since the uprising began 20 months ago, EU leaders instructed their foreign ministers to assess all possibilities to increase the pressure on Assad.

With rebels edging into the capital, a senior NATO official said that Assad is likely to fall and the Western military alliance should make plans to protect against the threat of his chemical arsenal falling into the wrong hands.

HUNGER SPREADS

Desperation for food is growing in parts of Syria and residents of the northern city of Aleppo say fist fights and dashes across the civil war front lines have become part of the daily struggle to secure a loaf of bread.

"I went out yesterday and could not get any bread. If only the problem was just lack of food - there is also a huge shortage of fuel, which the bakeries need to run," said Ahmed, a resident of the battle-scarred Salaheddine district.

He said people get into fist fights over flour and rebels regularly have to break up fights by firing into the air.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says as many as a million people may go hungry this winter, as worsening security conditions make it harder to reach conflict zones.

Forty thousand people have now been killed in the most enduring and destructive of the Arab revolts. The government severely limits press and humanitarian access to the country.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Friday the United Nations is committed to maintaining aid operations in Syria.

"NOTHING OFF THE TABLE"

At the EU summit, Britain's David Cameron pushed for an early review of the arms embargo against Syria to possibly open the way to supply equipment to rebels in the coming months. Germany and others were more reluctant and blocked any quick move. But there was widespread agreement that whatever action can be taken under current legislation should be pursued, and the arms embargo would still be reviewed at a later stage.

"I want a very clear message to go to President Assad that nothing is off the table," Cameron told reporters at the end of a two-day summit. "I want us to work with the opposition ... so that we can see the speediest possible transition in Syria.

"There is no single simple answer, but inaction and indifference are not options."

Among factors holding Western powers back from arming the rebels is the presence in their ranks of anti-Western Islamist radicals. Following a U.S. decision this week to blacklist one such group, Jabhat al-Nusra, a "terrorist" group, thousands of Syrians demonstrated on Friday against ostracizing the movement.

The latest, weekly Friday protests in rebel-held areas were held under the slogan: "The only terrorism in Syria is Assad's".

Inspired by Arab uprisings across the region, Syrian protesters were met with gunfire by Assad's security forces in March 2011. Armed revolt overtook the movement, which has become increasingly sectarian - waged by majority Sunni Muslims against forces loyal to Assad, who is from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of the Shi'ite Islam practiced in Assad's ally Iran.

A video posted on the Internet showed dozens of Sunni rebels dressed in camouflage gear congratulating and kissing each other outside a burning Shi'ite shrine.

A fighter holding a rifle said the group was destroying the "dens of the Shi'ites". Reuters could not independently verify the video, which was posted on YouTube on Wednesday and purports to be filmed in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughur.

(Writing by Oliver Holmes and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (25)
reality-again wrote:
Time for Russia to reconsider its unproductive support of Assad’s ally Iran.

Dec 14, 2012 8:34am EST  --  Report as abuse
Fromkin wrote:
This whole article is built on a fake story. Russia has denied making the comment about an alleged rebels’victory.

The rebels are not making progress on the battlefield so the West and their media organizations have decided to help them with a massive propaganda campaign. The media are using the kitchen sink strategy as far as media attack is concerned.

What happened to the battle of Damascus where the airport was encircled last week as reported by reuters?

Dec 14, 2012 10:03am EST  --  Report as abuse
Khantona wrote:
If there is some who likes to believe a Used Clothes Selling Business Owner based in London, Also Known As ‘Syrian observatory for human rights’, as a source of their information regarding Syria, it is up to them.

Here is another source from inside Syria reporting some of Dec 14, 2012

PROVINCES, (SANA)- The Armed Forces on Friday continued their national mission to clear areas and neighborhoods in Deir Ezzor from the mercenary terrorists and restore security to them.

An official source told SANA reporter that an army unit clashed with a terrorist group in al-Ommal neighborhood in the city of Deir Ezzor and inflicted heavy losses upon its members.

The source noted that among the killed terrorists was Radwan Hussein al-Ajaj al-Aleiwi, leader of a terrorist group belonging to Jabhat al-Nusra that is affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Another unit of the Armed Forces clashed with terrorists in al-Jbeileh neighborhood, killing a number of them. Terrorist Khalid Ahmad al-Hammad was identified among the killed.

The Armed Forces clashed with members of an armed terrorist group in al-Hussan village in the countryside, killing many of them and injuring others.

Scores of Terrorists Eliminated in Damascus Countryside

he Armed Forces’ pursuit of terrorist groups in Damascus Countryside continued in several areas, with the army members inflicting heavy losses upon the terrorists.

An official source told SANA reporter that operations were carried out in Hejjeira and resulted in killing a number of terrorists, including Wael al-Marzouqi and Jume’ al-Sahmani.

The source added that an army unit clashed with terrorists in al-Dhiyabiyeh, killing six terrorists. Terrorist Hassan Jalileh was identified among the dead.

The Clashes also resulted in destroying a mortar that had been set up inside a neighborhood in al-Dhiyabiyeh.

In Shabaa town, a unit of the Armed Forces confronted terrorists who blocked roads and committed acts of looting and vandalism and killed a number of them.

Maintenance Workshops Start Repairs for Electricity Networks in Aqraba, Damascus Countryside

In anotehr context, maintenance workshops of Damascus Countryside Electricity Department started repair works for the networks and transmission stations which were damaged by the acts of the terrorist groups near Aqraba town.

Army Unit Repels Terrorist Group’s Attack on Law Enforcement Forces in Hasaka

A unit of the Armed Forces repelled an attack by an armed terrorist group on the law enforcement forces in Jabal Abdul-Aziz area to the west of Hasaka city.

SANA reporter cited an official source as saying that the clashes resulted in killing a number of terrorists and injuring others, in addition to seizing a pick-up car and various types of weapons.

Dec 14, 2012 10:42am EST  --  Report as abuse
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