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Middle east

Syria fires scud missiles at rebels

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-12

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have fired Scud-style ballistic missiles against rebels in recent days, US and NATO officials said on Wednesday, representing a dramatic escalation in the Assad regime's struggle to maintain power.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebels trying to overthrow Syria’s government, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

US officials said they were unaware of any previous instances in which Scuds were used against the rebels and it represented an escalation in Assad’s struggle to retain power in the 20-month-old uprising in which more than 40,000 people are thought to have been killed.

INTERIOR MINISTRY FRONT GATE STRUCK BY BOMBS

Three bombs struck the main entrance of the Syrian interior ministry in Damascus on Wednesday, according to state television. One of the explosions was caused by a car bomb, and “there are casualties”, the report stated.



In Brussels, a NATO official confirmed on Wednesday that a number of short-range ballistic missiles had been launched inside Syria this week.

“Allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets have detected the launch of a number of unguided, short-range ballistic missiles inside Syria this week,” the official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, told AP news agency. “Trajectory and distance travelled indicate they were Scud-type missiles.”

It was not immediately clear why Assad’s forces would deploy Scuds, which can have a range of up to a few hundred kilometres and are best-known internationally for their part in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fired them at Israel.

The Soviet-designed missiles are unguided and inaccurate, and are not usually seen as a weapon of choice for the sort of internal anti-guerrilla war that the government is waging against small, mobile rebel bands.

Assad’s forces have in the past relied on artillery, helicopters and attack jets, all of which are much more useful in close urban combat. However, the lightly armed rebels are increasingly obtaining better weapons to fight back, including the ability to shoot down aircraft.

Last week, NATO decided to deploy US, German and Dutch batteries of Patriot air defence missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border, saying its main worry was the prospect of Syrian missiles being fired into Turkey.

That decision means hundreds of US and European troops being sent to the border for the first time since the war began 20 months ago. Syria and Russia called it a pretext for the Western alliance to become drawn into the war.

News of the use of Scud missiles broke as Western and Arab nations sympathetic to the uprising against Assad gave full political recognition to the opposition.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-12

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