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Syria threatens using WMDs as EU prepares to withdraw citizens

Cyprus’s justice minister says the bloc is “prepared for the worst”, as Syria reveals its WMD for the first time.

Syria's foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said his government could use weapons of mass destruction against enemies - but later sought to water down his remarks.
Syria's foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said his government could use weapons of mass destruction against enemies - but later sought to water down his remarks.
Image: Muzaffar Salman/AP

THE SYRIAN REGIME has threatened to use chemical and biological weapons in case of a foreign attack, in its first ever acknowledgement that it possesses weapons of mass destruction.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed, however, that Damascus would not use its unconventional arms against its own citizens.

The announcement comes as Syria faces international isolation, a tenacious rebellion that has left at least 19,000 people dead and threats by Israel to attack to prevent such weapons from falling into rebel hands.

The timing, however, of Syria’s decision to reveal the long-suspected existence of its chemical weapons suggests a desperate regime deeply shaken by an increasingly bold revolt that has scored a string of successes in the past week, including a stunning bomb attack that killed four high-level security officials, the capture of several border crossings and sustained offensives on the regime strongholds of Damascus and Aleppo.

“No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the developments inside Syria,” Makdissi said in news conference broadcast on Syrian state TV.

“All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.”

The ministry later sought to water down its comments, circulating written versions of Makdissi’s remarks to add the phrase “if any”, looking to reintroduce question-marks over whether Syria has any such weapons to begin with.

The United Nations’ secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said any use of such weapons would be “reprehensible”.

EU prepares possible evacuation

The European Union meanwhile said it was ready to evacuate its nationals from Syria if necessary, and is watching the developing situation in the country very closely.

“We are prepared for the worst,” said Cypriot home affairs minister Eleni Mavrou, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Council.

Speaking at informal talks between EU home affairs ministers, she said the bloc was preparing a system to help move Europeans as well as citizens from third countries from Syria to their own countries.

“We have experience of the evacuation from Lebanon and more recently with Libya,” said the EU’s home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem. “We can do it again.

“We are monitoring the situation hour by hour.”

Cyprus has warned that up to 200,000 foreign nationals may have to be evacuated from Syria, many of them also holding Syrian passports.

A formal meeting of the EU’s foreign affairs ministers in Brussels today ended with ministers again condemning the increasing use of force by the Syrian regime, and urging it to withdraw from besieged towns and call for a peaceful transition.

Ministers also strengthened the enforcement of the EU’s arms embargo, and increased other sanctions against Syria.

Israeli also said today it had met with American envoys to discuss how to manage a Syrian government collapse.

- Ben Hubbard and Paul Schemm; additional reporting by Gavan Reilly and AFP.

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