As war clouds gather, Syria vows to defend itself

Kerry’s statement indicates absence of a ‘smoking gun’ say analysts; Russia keeps the option of reactive response open

August 27, 2013 03:07 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:38 pm IST - Cairo

Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria. Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a U.N. team of experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighborhood, east of Damascus, Syria. Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a U.N. team of experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Syria has said that it will not be intimidated by threats of war, which have begun to acquire ominous overtones as western powers step up their military build-up around the Levantine state in the teeth of opposition from Russia and Iran.

Amid hectic activity, clear lines of international polarisation on Syria began to emerge on Tuesday. Backed by Britain and France, the United States continued to position war material near the Syrian coast for a possible strike. On their part, Russia and Iran mounted a spirited riposte, with Moscow pointing out that the consequences of military conflict on the region would be “catastrophic”.

In a defiant presser on Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Moallem warned that Damascus would not surrender, but, instead, defend itself in case it was attacked. “We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best: we will defend ourselves,” asserted Mr. Moallem.

The Syrian Foreign Minister stressed that neither did Damascus use chemical weapons, nor did it hinder the movement of U.N. experts intending to visit the site on outskirts of Damascus, where the alleged chemical attack took place. He pointed out that “no country in the world would use chemical weapons against its own people… if they wanted to wage an attack on Syria, the pretext of chemical weapons is inaccurate and vague, and I dare them to reveal their evidence first.”

Mr. Moallem’s observations follow accusations by the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry that Damascus has been destroying evidence of its chemical weapons use near Damascus by shelling the area — a statement that some analysts said was an admission by the Americans that they are not in possession of a “smoking gun” that would conclusively implicate the Assad regime for the carnage.

In a conversation on Monday with the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed scepticism about the strike, saying that Moscow did not have any evidence on whether a chemical weapons attack has taken place in Syria, or who was responsible for it.

Mr. Moallem refuted the perception that Syria had been buying time to manipulate evidence by delaying the visit of the U.N. team to the spot where the alleged atrocity had been committed.

“They [the U.N. team] asked to go to the regions that are under the armed groups’ control, and when they reached there, they faced gunshots and failed to continue their visit, because the armed groups have not agreed among each other on ensuring the team’s security,” he observed.

‘Ready to attack’

As the back-and-forth between the Syrians and their western counterparts gathered steam, frantic efforts appeared to have been mounted to stage a military attack on Syria, without a legal sanction from the U.N. Security Council.

The Guardian reported that “warplanes and military transporters” have reportedly been moved to Britain’s Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus.

The Akrotiri airbase is less than 160 km from Syria.

Separately, the U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC that American forces are “ready” to launch strikes on Syria if President Barack Obama decides to order an attack.

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the President wishes to take,” said the U.S. official.

Simultaneously, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a meeting in Amman with the top military officials from ten Western and West Asian nations to discuss possible military action in Syria. These meetings follow a report by Reuters that the U.S. Navy was expanding its footprint in the Mediterranean by deploying a fourth ship that was capable launching long-range, subsonic cruise missiles that would bring Syria within their strike range.

As the crisis escalated, the Russians have counselled the West to avoid a “clash of civilizations” type of situation in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov asserted that Moscow was “greatly alarmed by the statements made from Paris and London that NATO may intervene to destroy chemical weapons in Syria without the consent of the U.N. Security Council”. He asserted that Russia would not start military confrontation with anyone over Syria — a loaded statement that left open-ended the possibility of reactive response from Moscow in the future.

Iran — a top ally of Syria — also warned of “dire consequences” of foreign military intervention in Syria.

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