Assad not to step down; chemical weapons only against foreign attack: Syria


Syria will only use chemical weapons in case of a foreign attack, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said on Monday and also rejected an Arab proposal for President Bashar al-Assad to quit power.

“Syria will not use any chemical or other unconventional weapons against its civilians, and will only use them in case of external aggression,” Makdissi told a media conference in Damascus.

“Any stocks of chemical weapons that may exist, will never, ever be used against the Syrian people,” he said, adding that in the event of foreign attack, “the generals will be deciding when and how we use them.”

Fears have been rising that Assad’s regime might be prepared to use the country’s arsenal of chemical weapons in the repression of a 16-month uprising after reports his stocks were being moved around the country.

Makdissi’s comments come a day after the United States said it would “hold accountable” any Syrian official involved in the release or use of the country’s chemical weapons.

Neighboring Jordan’s King Abdullah II also said that in the event of a descent into all-out war, chemical weapons could fall into the hands of extremists, including certain rebel groups.

Israel also said on Sunday it was concerned chemical weapons might land in the hands of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

But Makdissi said the government was concerned that foreign states might supply rebels with unconventional weapons.

He warned against “the possibility of foreign parties arming terrorist groups... with bacteriological weapons that might explode in a village, so that Syrian forces can then be blamed.”

It appeared to be the first time that Syria acknowledged it might possess non-conventional weapons. Damascus is not a signatory to the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention that bans their use, production or stockpiling.

Makdissi raised the possibility that “terrorists groups” might be supplied with biological weapons by outside powers which “could be used in one of the villages - God forbid - and then they would accuse the Syrian forces.”

Assad not to give power

Makdissi also said Syria rejected a call by the Arab League for Assad to give up power.

“We are sorry that the Arab League has descended to this level concerning a member state of this institution,” he said. “This decision only concerns the Syrian people, who are the sole masters of fate of their governments.”

“If the Arab nations who met in Doha were honest about wanting to stop the bloodshed they would have stopped supplying arms... they would stop their instigation and propaganda,” he said. “All their statements are hypocritical.”

The Arab League on Monday called on Assad to swiftly step aside in order to end the deadly violence that has swept across the country, and reportedly killed more than 19,000 people since March 2011.

At least 23 people were “summarily executed” by regime forces in two Damascus neighborhoods on Sunday, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog told AFP news agency on Monday.

“Sixteen people, most of them younger than 30, were summarily executed by shooting on Sunday in Mazzeh,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, referring to an upscale district in western Damascus.

The bodies of some of those killed showed signs of torture.