Analysis

Syrian Chemical Weapons Admission Could Be Turning Point
Syrian rebels try to flush out snipers during clashes between rebels and Syrian troops in the city center of Selehattin, near Aleppo, July 23, 2012. Syrian rebels 'liberated' several districts of the northern city of Aleppo yesterday, according to a Free Syrian Army spokesman (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
July 24, 2012
| Security
| Middle East and North Africa
Summary
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Syria's statement yesterday that it has stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons but will only use them in the face of “external aggression” was almost surely a response to the sudden surge in rebel attacks that appear to be loosening President Bashar al-Assad's hold on power. The announcement startled the international community, which can be expected to reconsider its approach to the crisis in Syria given the possibility that Assad could use these weapons on his own people if sufficiently threatened.
Russia warned Syria not to use chemical weapons today and said it assumed its ally would abide by its international obligations. The Russian Foreign Ministry clarified that this meant a 1925 treaty banning the use of poison gas in warfare. Reuters is quoting an unnamed Western diplomat who said Syria was considering using chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels but Moscow stepped in and vetoed the idea. According to Reuters, the Western diplomat said, "There was talk of them [the Assad regime] using it [chemical weapons] two weeks ago, but the Russians intervened quickly to stop him."
 
Syria’s WMD admission yesterday came in the midst of heavy fighting in Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Aleppo, a commercial city in northern Syria that previously appeared immune to the 17-month uprising. Syrian troops reportedly used helicopter gunships and tanks over the weekend to drive rebel fighters out of Damascus. Fighting raged in Aleppo today as Syrian troops tried to reclaim areas seized by the rebels. Fourteen were reportedly killed in Syria today and 116 yesterday, according to unconfirmed reports cited by the BBC. Since the fighting intensified in mid-July, 1,260 have reportedly been killed.
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