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Obama Warns Syria Over Chemical Arms

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that “there will be consequences” if that regime uses chemical weapons against rebel fighters or opposition supporters.

"Today, I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said December 3 in Washington.

"The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable, and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."

Obama did not detail what consequences the regime could face if it used chemical arms.

Obama's comments came after U.S. officials said intelligence agents had detected the Syrian regime moving chemical weapons components in recent days, possibly for use against opposition forces.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have died since Arab Spring-style protects and insurrection erupted in early 2011.

'Red Line'

The White House earlier said any utilization of chemical weapons would mark a “red line” for Washington.

Responding to reports about Syria's chemical weapons, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the government would never under any circumstances use chemical weapons against Syrians.

The regime has not denied possessing such weapons. Syria’s arsenal is believed to include mustard gas and sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.

In another development, NATO on December 4 was expected to formally approve Turkey’s request for air-defense missiles to protect itself from rockets and planes that could threaten Turkey from neighboring Syria.

The move is expected to be endorsed at a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

Reports say the United States and the Netherlands are expected to supply NATO member Turkey with Patriot missiles, which can be fired to intercept rockets and planes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Turkey that the deployment of Patriot missiles along the Syrian border may only exacerbate hostilities. Putin was speaking after meeting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on December 3.

Turkey, which is hosting thousands of refugees from the Syrian conflict, has repeatedly called for the ouster of Assad's Syrian regime.

Russia, a traditional Syrian ally, has opposed outside intervention in the conflict.

Russia has blocked three United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at raising international pressure on the Damascus government. Russia, a leading supplier of arms to the Syrian regime, also opposes Turkish, Western, and Arab efforts to provide support to the rebels.

Amid a deteriorating security situation in Syria, the United Nations has announced the suspension of its aid operations in that country and withdrawal all nonessential international staff.

The UN in Syria has about 100 international staff members and some 900 local Syrian workers.

Risk Rising

UN officials said the security situation had become more dangerous recently in the capital, Damascus.

Intensified fighting between rebels and government forces around the capital has threatened the international airport and caused airlines including EgyptAir and Emirates to suspend flights to Damascus.

EgyptAir reportedly canceled a planned landing in Damascus on December 3 because of security concerns.

Government forces have been bombarding rebels on the outskirts of the capital to prevent a rebel advance, and fighting has been reported around the airport.

In a sign of turmoil within the Syrian government, reports said a Foreign Ministry spokesman has fled the country.

Reports said Jihad al-Makdissi, who had publicly defended the regime, had flown from Beirut to London. No confirmation was available, and it was not immediately clear if Makdissi had been removed from his post or had defected.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP