Russia warns U.S. against targeting Syria chemical arsenal

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Russia on Friday warned the United States on Friday against targeting Syria’s chemical arsenal after The New York Times reported that U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the Pentagon to expand the list of potential targets in Syria including military units that employ chemical weapons.

“With particular concern we perceive the fact that military infrastructure facilities securing the integrity and safety of Syria’s chemical arsenal are among the possible targets for military strikes,” Agence France-Presse reported the Russian foreign ministry as saying in a statement.

“In this respect we warn U.S. authorities and their allies against striking any chemical facilities and adjacent territories,” the statement said.

“Such actions would represent a dangerous new turn in the tragic development of the Syria crisis,” the ministry said, warning that the strikes could prompt the release of highly toxic substances.

“Besides, one cannot rule out that militants and terrorists would gain access to chemical weapons or chemical warfare agents as a result of such a reckless move,” the ministry said, expressing concern over the possible spread of chemical weapons further across Syria and beyond its borders.

“The U.S. bombing of Iraq’s Al Muthanna chemical storage facility led to a serious contamination of adjacent territory in 1991,” the statement said.

“For peaceful residents of Syria and other countries of the region the consequences can be even more severe.”

Obama ordered the Pentagon to expand the list of potential targets in Syria after intelligence reports suggested that the Syrian government has been moving troops and equipment used to employ chemical weapons to different locations.

To “deter and degrade” the ability of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to use chemical weapons, the strikes will hit more than 50 major sites, which were initially part of the target list developed with the French forces, the newspaper cited the U.S. officials as saying.

The newspaper also highlighted that the administration is “talking about using American and French aircraft” and firing cruise missiles from ship-launched Tomahawks for “the first time.”

Syrian military units – that, according to the U.S., have stored and prepared chemical weapons and launched attacks against Syrian rebels - will be targeted as well as headquarters supervising the Syrian army’s maneuvers, the military officials said, adding that the strikes will also aim at rocket and artillery units.

However, they said the strikes will not be aimed at the chemical stockpiles themselves to avoid any potential disaster.

On Wednesday, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect its chemical weapons such as air defenses, long-range missiles and rockets, which can also deliver the weapons.

While a strike on Syria is looming, and Assad’s regime said “its finger was on the trigger,” Obama delayed it on Saturday to seek congressional approval of military action.

After British parliament withdrew support for military action against Syria, Washington is seeking a wider coalition in addition to its strong ally, France.

(With AFP)

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