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Syria warned by West on chemical weapons

Western powers warned Damascus yesterday there would be an immediate reaction to any use of chemical weapons, as Nato approved a Turkish request for missiles to protect its border with Syria.

This is also the reason why it is a matter of urgency to ensure effective defence and protection of our ally Turkey

“The possible use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable to the whole international community and I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community,” Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles were “a matter of great concern,” Rasmussen said, adding: “This is also the reason why it is a matter of urgency to ensure effective defence and protection of our ally Turkey.”

Turkey’s request for US-made surface-to-air Patriot missiles on its border worried Russia, but both Nato and Ankara insisted they would be purely defensive.

“In response to Turkey’s request, Nato has decided to augment Turkey’s air defence capabilities in order to defend the population and territory of Turkey,” Nato foreign ministers said in a statement yesterday evening.

US President Barack Obama on Monday issued a new warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, as the conflict approaches the 21-month mark with more than 41,000 people killed.

“I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching, the use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable,” Obama said.

France, with traditional interests in the region, made a similar point.

“The leaders in Damascus must know the international community is watching them and will react” if chemical weapons are used, French foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said.

The Syrian Government, fighting to prevent the capital Damascus from falling to rebel forces, on Monday reiterated it would never resort to chemical weapons.

Saudi Arabia urged the international community to take a unified position on Syria after rebel groups formed a coalition last month.

“We see in forming the new Syrian coalition an important positive step towards uniting the Opposition under one banner,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said.

“We hope to see a similar step towards uniting the positions and views of the international community in dealing with the Syrian issue,” the foreign minister added. Saudi Arabia has openly called for arming the rebels.

On the ground yesterday, the Syrian army blasted a string of rebel zones on the eastern and south-western outskirts of Damascus. Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: “The army is trying at all costs to keep the rebels out of Damascus.”

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