Strikes against Syria risk regional war
Sep 2, 2013 / 12:11 pm
Syria's president warned Monday that the Middle East is a "powder keg" and potential Western military strikes against his country risk triggering a regional war.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Bashar Assad also was quoted as saying that Syria has challenged the U.S. and France to provide proof to support their allegations that Damascus has used chemical weapons, but that the leaders of both countries "have been incapable of doing that, including before their own peoples."
President Barack Obama and his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, have accused Assad's regime of carrying out a deadly chemical attack against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21. The Syrian government denies the allegations, and blames opposition fighters.
Obama initially seemed poised to launch military action, but abruptly announced on Saturday he would first ask Congress for authorization. Hollande also has called for a forceful response against Assad, but is awaiting a decision from Washington first.
If the U.S. and France decide to strike, Assad said "everyone will lose control of the situation."
"Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists," he added.
Asked whether France, which has been a staunch supporter of the opposition, has become an enemy of Syria, Assad said that whoever contributes "financially and militarily to terrorists is an enemy of the Syrian people."
"The French people are not our enemy, but the policy of their government is hostile to the Syrian people. Insofar as French government policy is hostile to the Syrian people, this state will be its enemy," he said.
As the U.S. has been presenting its case to a wary public, the French government on Monday published a nine-page intelligence synopsis that concluded that the Syrian regime launched an attack on Aug. 21 that involved a "massive use of chemical agents." The report also said that Assad government could carry out similar strikes in the future.
The U.S. said it has proof that the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
In Damascus, the Syria representative of the U.N. refugee agency, Tarik Kurdi, said that five million Syrians have been displaced inside the country by the war.
In addition, nearly 2 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, according to previous U.N. figures, bringing the total number of uprooted Syrians to about 7 million, or nearly one-third the country's estimated population of 23 million.
Kurdi said the need for aid is far greater than what the international community has provided so far.
"Whatever efforts we have exerted and whatever the U.N. has provided in humanitarian aid, it is only a drop in the sea of humanitarian needs in Syria," he told The Associated Press. The funding gap "is very, very wide," he added.
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