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Syria says it fears being blamed if chemicals used

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Syria's UN ambassador is warning extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government.

Bashar Ja'afari reiterated in letters, circulated Monday, to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the Syrian government is "genuinely worried" foreign countries could provide chemical weapons to armed groups "and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government."

Although the West has shown little desire to intervene in Syria, U.S. President Barack Obama has said the regime's use of chemical weapons against the rebels would be a "red line" and change his "calculus" about a conflict.

As the prospect of intervention gains traction, the Syrian government has been careful to never actually confirm it has chemical weapons and is instead trying to raise fears it may be framed by rebels using such weapons to spur an outside attack.

Recent U.S. intelligence reports, however, showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them.

Ja'afari in his letter reiterated "Syria will not under any circumstances use any chemical weapons that it may have."

He said, instead, the Syrian government is defending its people "from terrorists backed by well-known states, at the forefront of which is the United States of America."

The Syrian regime and state media refer to rebels fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Ja'afari recalled that when UN monitors were in Syria, the government asked that a UN team visit a privately owned chlorine laboratory east of Aleppo "to inspect and secure the contents, which terrorist groups were planning to bring under their control."

UN monitors were unable to visit, however, because they came under fire, he said.

He expressed regret no action has been taken to address these developments and hold rebel groups accountable.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Monday the UN is sending in kits to protect soldiers in the UN peacekeeping force on Syria's border with Israel from the effects of a possible chemical attack.

He said the United Nations doesn't have the ability to verify reports by a number of countries Syria possesses and might use chemical weapons. But "we don't want to take a risk," Ladsous said.

The Syria uprising started in March 2011 as peaceful protests but quickly turned into a civil war after the government's brutal crackdown on dissent. Activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2012 A13

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