Syria says could use chemical arms against foreigners
By Erika Solomon and Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Western states expressed alarm after Syria acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign countries intervene.
A week of unprecedented fighting inside the capital Damascus, including a bomb attack that killed four of President Bashar al-Assad's closest advisers, has transformed the 16-month uprising and dramatically escalated international pressure on Assad.
Damascus residents said the capital was relatively quiet in the early hours of Tuesday after a day of fighting that saw government troops storm a neighborhood.
Defying Arab foreign ministers who on Sunday offered Assad a "safe exit" if he stepped down, the Syrian leader has launched fierce counter-offensives, reflecting his determination to keep power as the uprising enters its most violent phase.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the army would not use chemical weapons to crush rebels but could use them against forces from outside the country.
"Any chemical or bacterial weapons will never be used ... during the crisis in Syria regardless of the developments," Makdissi said. "These weapons are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces external aggression."
Damascus has not signed a 1992 international convention that bans the use, production or stockpiling of chemical weapons, but officials in the past had denied it had any stockpiles. Washington and other Western capitals rushed to warn Syria against making any threats to use such weapons.
"Given the escalation of violence in Syria, and the regime's increasing attacks on their people, we remain very concerned about these weapons," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. Continued...