Fear grips Middle East over chemical weapons
FEARS are growing that President Assad of Syria could be preparing to use chemical weapons against his own people.
Allied intelligence has detected the movement of chemical weapons components in recent days, a senior US defence official said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Prague, reiterated President Barack Obama's declaration that Syrian action on chemical weapons is a "red line" for the United States that would prompt action.
She said: "We have made our views very clear. I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people but, suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur."
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Syria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the regime "would not use chemical weapons – if there are any – against its own people under any circumstances". Syria has been careful never to confirm that it has any chemical weapons.
The use of chemical weapons would be a major escalation in Assad's crackdown on his foes and would draw international condemnation. The regime's willingness to use them would alarm much of the region, particularly neighbouring states including Israel.
Although Syria is one of only seven nations that have not signed the Chemical Weapons Treaty, it is a party to the 1925 Geneva Protocol that bans the use of chemical weapons in war.
Up to now, the US has opposed military intervention or providing arms support to Syria's rebels for fear of further militarising a conflict that activists say has killed more than 40,000 people since March last year.