The Syrian government has fired Scud missiles into rebel-held areas of the country in recent days, it has been claimed – a development that, if true, would mark a significant escalation in the nearly two-year-old conflict.
Claims that President Bashar al-Assad's forces had fired the medium-range missiles were first made on Monday by the opposition Local Coordination Committees – a network of activists on the ground in Syria. Tonight, US officials supported those claims, and said that more than half a dozen Scud missiles had been fired since then.
The Foreign Office condemned the Syrian regime for firing the missiles, calling it "a further act of appalling brutality and a clear indication that the Assad regime is prepared to go to any lengths to silence the legitimate aspirations of its people." A spokeswoman added: "We don't know the details of the missile, but the trajectory and distance travelled indicates that it is a Scud-type missile."
Scud missiles were made famous by Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. They are notoriously inaccurate and can cause civilian casualties.
The news of the escalation came as more than 100 countries recognised a new coalition of Syrian opposition groups.
The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said the boost in support for the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting in Morocco, just hours after recognition from the US, was a sign of the "extraordinary progress".
However, coalition members said the benefits would be dampened by America's decision to designate a prominent jihadist group as a terrorist organisation, and urged Washington to reconsider. The Jabhat al-Nusra group, which the US describes as an offshoot of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, has played a key role in recent battlefield gains for the rebels and is thought to make up 10 per cent of their fighting force.
"We welcome recognition from the US and others but this is nowhere near enough," Haitham al-Maleh, the head of the new coalition's legal committee, told The Independent.