Assad's forces fire Scuds in Syria escalation: U.S. official

Wed Dec 12, 2012 6:53pm EST
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WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebels trying to overthrow Syria's government, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, a step seen as an escalation in Assad's struggle to retain power.

U.S. officials said they were unaware of any previous instances in which Scuds were used against the rebels since the start of the 20-month-old uprising, which has killed more than 40,000 people.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to confirm the reports, saying he was aware of them but could not discuss intelligence matters.

"If true, this would be the latest desperate act from a regime that has shown utter disregard for innocent life," he said. "The idea that the Syrian regime would launch missiles in its borders at its own people is stunning, desperate, a completely disproportionate military escalation."

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Scuds had been used.

In Brussels, a NATO official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said a number of "Scud-type" short-range ballistic missiles had been launched inside Syria in recent days.

"Allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets have detected the launch of a number of unguided, short-range ballistic missiles inside Syria this week," the official said.

"Trajectory and distance travelled indicate they were Scud-type missiles," the NATO official said.

Thomas Houlahan, a military analyst at the Center for Security and Science, said the weapons were probably North Korean-made Hwasong-6 missiles, an improved variant of the original Soviet Scuds.   Continued...

A damaged plastic chair is seen among rubble on a damaged street in Aleppo's al-Amereya district December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Aaref Hretani