The Syrian crisis unbelievably took another turn for the worse Saturday, Dec. 29: After making no headway with Bashar Assad in Damascus, the UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was told in no uncertain terms by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow: “There is no possibility of persuading Syrian ruler Bashar Assad to leave Syria.” As they spoke, a record 400 people died in hostilities in the country. The burnt remains of hundreds of people slaughtered by the army were discovered in a Homs district. And Syrian opposition leaders have repeatedly preconditioned their acceptance of the Russian invitation to talks on Assad’s prior exit.
This stalemate is compounded by escalation in the use of two extreme weapons of war. Since Dec. 12, the Syrian army has been firing home-made Scud missiles at rebel centers. The US and NATO have responded by stationing six Patriot batteries manned by 1,000 American, German and Dutch servicemen, on the Turkish-Syrian border to protect Turkey from Syrian attack. The inference here is that so long as the Scuds are confined to targets inside Syria, Western intervention will stop at the border.
Then on Dec. 26, The Syrian army, under the command of Iranian officers, began shooting Fateh A-110 high-precision, short-range surface missiles made in Iran. They were sent to Syria at top speed by an Iranian airlift flying over Iraq. Syria in fact manufactures a local version of the Fateh A-110, called M600. But Tehran decided to deliver the originals to show the world that Assad is not fighting alone and that Iran’s military support for his regime is solid – not just against the uprising, but also against NATO, its missiles and the units which have taken up position in Turkey.
In effect, both sides to the conflict appear to have resorted to a form of chemical warfare. Western and Middle East military sources report that, last week, Syrian forces loyal to Assad are thought to have used in the Homs battle of Dec. 23 grenades containing a gas that paralyzes lungs and causes extreme infirmity, or even death.