* Russia warns against unilateral U.S. action in Syria
* At least 20 bodies found after Syria troops overrun suburb
* Syria says foreign intervention "impossible"
By Dominic Evans
BEIRUT, Aug 21 Russia warned the West on Tuesday
against unilateral action on Syria, a day after U.S. President
Barack Obama threatened "enormous consequences" if his Syrian
counterpart used chemical or biological arms or even moved them
in a menacing way.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after
meeting China's top diplomat, said Moscow and Beijing were
committed to "the need to strictly adhere to the norms of
international law...and not to allow their violation".
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, also speaking in
Moscow, dismissed Obama's threat as media fodder.
"Direct military intervention in Syria is impossible because
whoever thinks about it ... is heading towards a confrontation
wider than Syria's borders," he told a news conference.
Jamil said the West was seeking an excuse to intervene,
likening the focus on Syria's chemical weapons with the run-up
to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led forces on what proved
to be groundless suspicions that Saddam Hussein was concealing
weapons of mass destruction.
Russia and China have opposed military intervention in Syria
throughout a 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar
al-Assad. They have vetoed three U.N. Security Council
resolutions backed by Western and Arab states that would have
put more pressure on Damascus to end violence that has cost
In one of the latest battle zones, Syrian troops and tanks
overran the Damascus suburbs of Mouadamiya on Tuesday, killing
at least 20 young men and burning shops and houses before
pulling back, residents and opposition activists said.
The bodies of the men, mostly shot at point-blank range,
were found in basements and looted premises, bringing to 50 the
death toll from the army's two-day-old offensive to drive rebels
from the Sunni Muslim suburb in the southwest of the capital.
"People are just starting to get out of their homes to see
the destruction," said one activist who gave her name as Hayat.
Opposition sources said Free Syrian Army rebels left
Mouadamiya at dawn under heavy aerial and ground bombardment.
State-imposed curbs on media made it impossible to verify
the reports of the violence, which followed another bloody day
on Monday, when about 200 people were killed across the country,
according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United States and its allies have shown little appetite
for intervention to halt the bloodshed on the lines of last
year's NATO campaign that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
But Obama used some of his strongest language yet on Monday
to warn Assad not to use unconventional weapons.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to
other players on the ground, that a red line for us is (if) we
start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or
being utilised," he said. "That would change my calculus."
Syria last month acknowledged for the first time that it had
chemical or biological weapons and said it could use them if
foreign countries attacked it.
"We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological
weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," Obama
said, perhaps referring to Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah group, an
Iranian-backed ally of Assad, or to Islamist militants.
The U.S.-based Global Security website says there are four
suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria producing the nerve
agents VX, sarin and tabun. It does not cite its sources.
Israel, still formally at war with Syria, has also debated
whether to attack the unconventional arms sites which it views
as its gravest peril from the conflict next door.
Obama has been reluctant to embroil the United States in
another war in the Middle East and refuses to arm Syrian rebels,
partly for fear that some of those fighting the Iranian-backed
president are Islamist radicals equally hostile to the West.
Rebels have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria
near Turkey, which now hosts 70,000 Syrian refugees and which
has suggested that the United Nations might need to create a
"safe zone" in Syria if that total topped 10,000.
But setting up a safe haven would require imposing a no-fly
zone, an idea which U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said
last week was not a "front-burner" issue for Washington.
With diplomatic efforts to end the war stymied by divisions
between world powers and regional rivalries, Syria faces the
prospect of a prolonged conflict that increasingly sets a mainly
Sunni Muslim opposition against Assad's Alawite minority.
That sectarian faultline also flared in neighbouring
Lebanon, where two people were killed and more than 60 wounded
in the northern port city of Tripoli, a mainly Sunni city with a
staunchly pro-Assad Alawite minority.
Gunmen in the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and their
Alawite rivals in Jebel Mohsen exchanged gun and grenade fire in
sporadic fighting overnight and into the day, despite action by
Lebanese army troops deployed in the port city, residents said.
The wounded included 10 soldiers, the army said.