Rebels accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday of moving chemical weapons to the country’s borders, a day after his beleaguered regime said it would use its stockpiles if attacked.
Helicopter gunships strafed rebel neighborhoods of Aleppo, as heavy fighting forced the closure of a third of the shopping malls of what is Syria’s commercial capital, pro-government media said.
However, as rebel fighters suffered setbacks, notably in Damascus, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said it would be willing to accept a transition led temporarily by a member of the regime if al-Assad steps aside.
The rebel Free Syrian Army said the regime’s chemical arsenal had been moved in a bid to pressure the international community, much of which has called for al-Assad to step aside in the face of the more than 16-month uprising against his rule.
“We in the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside the country know very well the locations and positions of these weapons,” the statement said. “We also reveal that Assad has transferred some of these weapons and equipment for mixing chemical components to airports on the border.”
“According to our information, the regime began moving its stocks of weapons of mass destruction several months ago ... with the goal of putting pressure on the region and the international community,” the statement said.
At a Damascus news conference on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi acknowledged that Syria has chemical weapons and said the regime would use them if attacked by outsiders, though not against its own civilians.
“Syria will not use any chemical or other unconventional weapons against its civilians, and will only use them in case of external aggression,” Makdissi said.
US President Barack Obama warned al-Assad not to make the “tragic mistake” of unleashing chemical weapons.
“Given the regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching,” Obama told an audience of US veterans in Nevada. “They will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.”
Makdissi said later in an e-mail that Syria would “never use chemical and biological weapons during the crisis ... and that such weapons, if they exist, it is natural for them to be stored and secured.”
In a sign that the opposition is looking for a political solution following some reversals suffered by the rebels, the SNC said it would be prepared to consider a transition similar to that which saw a transfer of power in Yemen.