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Ex-envoy: Assad ready to use chemical arms
The Assad regime will use chemical weapons if cornered, a top Syrian diplomat who defected said as rebels moving toward central Damascus fought loyalist troops.
President Bashar Assad will only be ousted by force, “even if he will have to eradicate the entire Syrian people,” former Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares told the BBC in Qatar.
This could include using chemical weapons if the regime “is further cornered by the people,” said Fares, previously viewed by many in the West as a regime hardliner.
He described Assad as someone with a god complex who believes he and his family “will live forever as rulers of Syria.”
He said the Assad family was “clinging to power” and Assad himself had become “a fully fledged criminal like a wounded wolf.”
Fares’ chemical-weapons comments followed a Wall Street Journal report Thursday that U.S. officials feared Damascus might use its undeclared stockpiles of sarin nerve agent, mustard gas and cyanide against anti-regime rebels or civilians, possibly in an ethnic cleansing campaign.
They told the newspaper Syria had begun moving chemical weapons out of storage.
Damascus is widely believed to possess one of the Middle East’s largest stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
Fares also told the BBC the Assad regime — which claims its devastating onslaught against opponents is a “fight against terrorism” — has teamed up with al-Qaida to coordinate major bombings across Syria.
When challenged on this, Fares said: “Al-Qaida is not concerned with the Syrian people or their interests. Al-Qaida is searching for space to move, for support.”
U.S. officials have linked al-Qaida to deadly bombings and attacks in Syria for months, but mostly through Sunni fighters seeking to topple the Assad regime, not through the regime itself.
U.S. officials have told The New York Times al-Qaida is seeking to exploit the turmoil and reinvigorate its regional ambitions after being sidelined in the initial popular uprisings of the Arab Spring last year.
Assad last week blamed the escalating Syrian violence on a mixture of al-Qaida forces and other extremists.
The violence intensified in Damascus to its most fierce since the uprising began 16 months ago early Tuesday as loyalist units and rebel forces battled near the city center.
The British newspaper The Independent said the regime’s grip on Damascus appeared to be slipping as close to 1,000 rebel fighters and loyalist forces backed by armored units, including tanks, fought in the streets Monday.
Online videos purporting to have been shot in Damascus Monday showed furious street battles and major thoroughfares blocked by protesters burning tires.
The videos were impossible to verify.
The raging battles came as two more top-level officials were reported to have defected.
Maj. Gen. Adnan Sillu, the former head of Syria’s chemical-weapons program, said in an online video he would now head the opposition Free Syrian Army’s joint military leadership.
He said Assad would fall only by military means and called on NATO to bomb the presidential palace, located on top of a nearly 4,000-foot-high mountain overlooking Damascus.
In addition, Farouk Taha, Syria’s ambassador to Belarus until his mission ended six months ago, announced his defection, Syrian National Council sources told the Saudi-supported Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
Taha had been summoned to return to the Foreign Ministry in Damascus but defected instead, the newspaper said.
Copyright 2012 by United Press International