Amid reports of American preparations for a military operation in Syria, the war-torn country's information minister warned Saturday that that attacking his country would have dangerous consequences. "A mass of flames will ignite the Middle East," Omran al-Zoubi said in a television interview, adding that such an attack will not be a "picnic."
The minister conveyed a stern message from the regime in Damascus: "The American pressure will not help, it is a waste of time, and Syria will not withdraw from its fight against terror."
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The minister further said that "the use of the Syrian opposition's of chemical weapons shows their incompetence and confusion." According to him, the regime has proof that the rebels made use of chemical weapons.
Also on Saturday, Syrian National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba accused Bashar Assad of massacring thousands of civilians and called on the international community to intervene immediately to "stop" the Syrian president.
Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey on Saturday Jarba addressed the alleged chemical attack by Assad's forces on rebel strongholds in the suburbs of Damascus this week. "Assad killed 2,000 Syrians, mostly women and children. Everyone must take part in stopping the massacre carried out by Assad, otherwise you are supporting, directly or indirectly, the slaughter of Syria's citizens."
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
The opposition leader leveled harsh criticism at Russia and China for "taking the UN Security Council hostage." Moscow and Beijing prevented an official investigation of the UNSC in Syria.
Jarba rejected the Assad regime's claim that rebel forces were using chemical weapons, calling it a "desperate attempt to divert attention from the ongoing crimes against the Syrian people."
"Syria has a regime that imposes terror on its citizens and supports terror, together with its allies in Iran, which cooperates with Hezbollah in the killing of Syrian civilians," he told reporters.
"We are all in shock by the information of the chemical slaughter that the Assad regime launched against its own citizens."
Free Syria Army Chief of Staff General Salim Idris denied the claims of chemical weapons use by the rebels. "We have proof that the Syrian regime is involved in the criminal actions in the outskirts of Damascus," he said during the press conference.
"The chemical attack of the regime in the outskirts of Damascus is a response to the attack on the convoy of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Eid al-Fitr," he added.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders said some 355 people who showed "neurotoxic symptoms" died following the suspected chemical weapons attack this week near Syria's capital.
The Paris-based humanitarian aid group said Saturday that three hospitals it supports in the Damascus region reported receiving roughly 3,600 patients who showed such symptoms over less than three hours on Wednesday morning.
A debate has ensued about who was behind the alleged gas attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs that activists previously said killed more than 130 people. The attack has spurred demands for an independent investigation and renewed talk of potential international military action, if chemical weapons were indeed used.
Anti-government activists accuse the Syrian government of carrying out the toxic gas attack on the eastern suburbs of Damascus and have reported death tolls ranging from 136 to 1,300.
US President Barack Obama convened his top national security advisers Saturday morning to discuss the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, a White House official said, amid indications that US military assets are being positioned for a possible response.
"We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decisions consistent with our national interest, as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria," the official said.
The Pentagon has dispatched into the eastern Mediterranean a fourth warship armed with ballistic missiles capable of striking Syrian targets, CBS News reported Saturday.
US Navy ships are capable of a variety of military action, including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, as they did against Libya in 2011 as part of an international action that led to the overthrow of the Libyan government, said CBS News, whose national security correspondent David Martin reported Friday that the Pentagon is making the initial preparations for a cruise-missile attack on Syrian government forces.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters traveling with him to Asia early Saturday that the Defense Department "has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options — whatever options the president might choose."
AFP, AP, Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the report
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