Stern warn­ing

Syria warns against mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion as probe looks into pos­si­ble chem­i­cal at­tack.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in Da­m­as­cus, Syria

Snipers shot at a UN team set to in­spect the site of a sus­pected deadly chem­i­cal weapons at­tack on Mon­day, fur­ther ratch­et­ing up ten­sions as the West warned of pos­si­ble mil­i­tary ac­tion against Da­m­as­cus.

A de­fi­ant Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad de­clared that any strike by the United States and its al­lies would be doomed to fail­ure and key ally Moscow said it could have danger­ous con­se­quences for the en­tire re­gion.

A UN spokesman said uniden­ti­fied snipers shot at the UN ex­perts look­ing into al­le­ga­tions of a chem­i­cal at­tack near Da­m­as­cus last week that the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion claimed killed hun­dreds of civil­ians.

The at­tack forced them to sus­pend their in­spec­tion but no in­juries were re­ported, said spokesman Martin Ne­sirky.

“The first ve­hi­cle of the chem­i­cal weapons in­ves­ti­ga­tion team was de­lib­er­ately shot at mul­ti­ple times by uniden­ti­fied snipers,” he said.

Syria blamed rebel forces for the at­tack, state tele­vi­sion said on Mon­day.

Syria TV, cit­ing an In­for­ma­tion Min­istry source, said the in­ter­na­tional ex­perts were shot at by “ter­ror­ists”, a term it com­monly uses to de­scribe rebels try­ing to top­ple As­sad.

“The Syr­ian govern­ment will hold the armed ter­ror­ist groups re­spon­si­ble for the safety of the mem­bers of the United Na­tions team,” the source added, ac­cord­ing to state tele­vi­sion.

The at­tack came as the West ap­peared to be mov­ing closer to launch­ing a mil­i­tary re­sponse over last Wed­nes­day’s at­tack near Da­m­as­cus, which shocked the world af­ter grisly pic­tures emerged of dead civil­ians.

Bri­tain said the West could act even with­out full UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil back­ing.

Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies have pointed the fin­ger of blame at As­sad for the al­leged at­tack, the lat­est atroc­ity in a con­flict that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 peo­ple since March 2011.

As­sad, in an in­ter­view with a Rus­sian news­pa­per pub­lished on Mon­day, an­grily de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions as an “in­sult to com­mon sense” and said any mil­i­tary ac­tion was doomed to fail­ure.

“The US faces fail­ure just like in all the pre­vi­ous wars they waged,” he said.

A se­nior Syr­ian se­cu­rity of­fi­cial told AFP the govern­ment was ready to face “all sce­nar­ios”.

“Western threats of strikes against Syria are part of the psy­cho­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal pres­sure against Syria, but in any case we are ready to face all sce­nar­ios,” the of­fi­cial said.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov warned his US coun­ter­part John Kerry of the “ex­tremely danger­ous con­se­quences of a pos­si­ble new mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion for the whole Mid­dle East and North Africa re­gion”.

Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties had ap­proved the UN in­spec­tion of the site in Ghouta east of Da­m­as­cus on Sun­day, but US of­fi­cials said it was too lit­tle, too late, ar­gu­ing that per­sis­tent shelling there in re­cent days had “cor­rupted” the site.

Mor­tar shells also hit a mosque in the cen­ter of Da­m­as­cus on Mon­day, the Syr­ian news agency SANA said, blam­ing “ter­ror­ists”.

KHALED AL-HARIRI / REUTERS

UN ve­hi­cles in Da­m­as­cus trans­port a team of UN chem­i­cal weapons ex­perts on Mon­day to the scene of an al­leged poi­son gas at­tack out­side the Syr­ian cap­i­tal last week.

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