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Damascus Pledges No Use Of Chemical Weapons Against Syrians

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi
A spokesman for Syria's Foreign Ministry says the embattled government would only use chemical weapons in response to "aggression" coming from outside the country.

Spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference in Damascus on July 23 that the government would never use such weapons against Syrians.

"Any stocks of [weapons of mass destruction] or any unconventional weapons that the Syrian Arab Republic possesses would never -- would never be used against civilians or against the Syrian people during this crisis [under] any circumstances, no matter how the crisis would evolve," he said.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman added that the country's chemical-weapons stockpiles remain well-protected by the military, despite the conflict that is engulfing the nation.

The comments came a day after the United States said it would "hold accountable" any Syrian official involved in the use of chemical weapons.

Syria has never officially confirmed it has chemical weapons.

On July 23, British Foreign Secretary William Hague maintained that the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman's comments reflected the "complete illusion of this regime that they are victims of external aggression."

"What is actually happening is their own people are rising up against a brutal police state," he said.

Fresh Sanctions

The Syrian spokesman also rejected an Arab League offer to provide a "safe exit" for President Bashar al-Assad and his family if Assad steps down.

He said the security situation in Damascus is improving and will be normalized within days.

Activists said Syrian regime forces raided several districts of Damascus on July 23, while in Syria's largest city, Aleppo, clashes between government troops and rebels were reported overnight.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group says more than 19,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad's regime began in March 2011.

On July 23, European Union foreign ministers added 27 Syrian individuals and three companies to the bloc's sanctions list.

It's the 17th round of EU sanctions against the Syrian regime since protests erupted last year.

The ministers also agreed to tighten an existing arms embargo against Syria by requiring member nations to board ships and aircraft carrying suspicious cargo to the war-torn nation.

Also on July 23, Russia's state-controlled airline Aeroflot said it will next month end flights to Damascus, citing lack of demand.

The company operates two flights from Moscow and two from Damascus each week. Russia is one the few remaining allies of the Syrian regime.

Syria is home to tens of thousands of ethnic Russians as well as Syrians who studied in the former Soviet Union.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and the BBC
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