Syria says opposition could use chemical weapons

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria's U.N. ambassador is warning that extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government.

Bashar Ja'afari reiterated in letters, circulated Monday, to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the Syrian government is "genuinely worried" that foreign countries could provide chemical weapons to armed groups "and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government."

Although the West has shown little desire to intervene in Syria, President Barack Obama has said the regime's use of chemical weapons against the rebels would be a "red line" and change his "calculus" about a conflict.

As the prospect of intervention gains traction, the Syrian government has been careful to never actually confirm it has chemical weapons and is instead trying to raise fears it may be framed by rebels using such weapons to spur an outside attack.

Recent U.S. intelligence reports, however, showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.

Ja'afari in his letter reiterated that "Syria will not under any circumstances use any chemical weapons that it may have."

He said instead the Syrian government is defending its people "from terrorists backed by well-known states, at the forefront of which is the United States of America." The Syrian regime and state media refer to rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Ja'afari recalled that when U.N. monitors were in Syria, the government asked that a U.N. team visit a privately owned chlorine laboratory east of Aleppo "to inspect and secure the contents, which terrorist groups were planning to bring under their control."

U.N. monitors were unable to visit, however, because they came under fire, he said.

He expressed regret that no action has been taken to address these developments and hold rebel groups accountable.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Monday that the U.N. is sending in kits to protect soldiers in the U.N. peacekeeping force on Syria's border with Israel from the effects of a possible chemical attack.

He said the United Nations doesn't have the ability to verify reports by a number of countries that Syria possesses and might use chemical weapons. But "we don't want to take a risk," Ladsous said.

The Syria uprising started in March 2011 as peaceful protests but quickly turned into a civil war after the government's brutal crackdown on dissent. Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed.

On Sunday, fighter jets screamed over Damascus to bomb two areas in the southern part of the capital. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets carried out six airstrikes in the Hajar Aswad area and the neighboring Yarmouk Palestinian camp, where the rebels have been advancing.

The U.N. secretary-general spoke to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Monday morning to express concern about the escalation of violence in recent days and especially the attack on Yarmouk, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

In a letter to the Security Council, Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour condemned the attack which killed at least 25 people, injured dozens of others and sent thousands of panicked Palestinian refugees fleeing mainly towards Lebanon for safety.

Palestinian refugees have been in Syria since 1948 and have sought to stay out of the current conflict and remain neutral, as have Palestinian leaders, he said.

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