Assad's regime issues chemical weapons threat


The Syrian regime admitted for the first time yesterday that it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as it dismissed as "flagrant interventionism" an Arab League offer to provide a safe exit for President Bashar al-Assad and his family if he steps aside.

As the conflict entered a new phase of instability, Qatar's Prime Minister, Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, said the Arab League had made the offer but provided no further details.

The league's move was swiftly condemned by the Assad regime. A spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, Jihad Makdissi, accused Western officials and media of ramping up the rhetoric over its stockpiles of unconventional weapons as a pretext for intervention.

"Any chemical or biological weapons will never be used, I repeat, will never be used in the Syrian crisis, no matter what the internal developments in this crisis are," he said.

However, he added: "All varieties of these weapons are stored and secured by the Syrian armed forces and under its direct supervision, and will not be used unless Syria is subjected to external aggression."

The government denied it possessed such weapons, saying Mr Makdissi had meant that "if any" existed then they would not be used against the Syrian people.

The Syrian military is thought to have large stockpiles largely consisting of sarin, mustard gas and nerve agents, which it is capable of delivering via Scud missiles.

The rebels appear to be struggling to hold on to their gains in Damascus but the story is different in the second city, Aleppo, where intense clashes continued yesterday.