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Assad Warns Against Arming Rebels, Denies Chemical Weapons Use

Assad Warns Against Arming Rebels, Denies Chemical Weapons Use
A Syrian rebel monitors the movement of Syrian government forces in the Salaheddine district of the Syrian city of Aleppo. Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that Europe will “pay the price” for arming rebels trying to topple him and rejected accusations that he’s deployed chemical weapons against them as baseless.

In an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in Damascus, Assad warned that European nations seeking to send weapons to rebels will only export “terrorists” back to Europe. He also said the U.S., U.K. and France hadn’t substantiated their chemical weapons allegations.

“If Paris, London and Washington had a single piece of evidence for their claims, they would have produced it for the world public,” Assad told FAZ. An image on the Syrian president’s Facebook page showed an FAZ cover and a photo of Assad sitting with a reporter from the newspaper.

Backed by Lebanon’s Shiite militia Hezbollah and aid from Iran and Russia, Assad’s forces have shifted the momentum in Syria’s civil war with an offensive against the rebels. He granted the interview after President Barack Obama, accusing Assad of crossing a “red line” by using chemical weapons, last week ratcheted up U.S. support for the rebels with a decision to send them light arms.

Assad said using chemical weapons would be “illogical” if conventional weapons could be deployed -- and added that Syria has never confirmed or denied possessing chemical arms.

Instead, he accused rebel militia of using such weapons and said France and the U.K. had blocked a United Nations measure to investigate such a deployment in Aleppo.

Lies

“Everything that’s been said about the use of chemical weapons is a continuation of lies against Syria,” Assad told FAZ. “It’s the attempt to justify more military intervention.”

The Syrian leader also singled out the French and British governments, which spearheaded an end to the European Union’s weapons embargo last month, for wanting to ship weapons that he said will ultimately end up in the hands of “terrorists.”

“Terrorism means chaos here; chaos leads to poverty and poverty means that Europe will lose a significant market,” Assad said. “The second consequence would be the direct export of terrorism to Europe” as refugees leave the country.

Group of Eight leaders meeting today in Northern Ireland take up the Syria issue, as Obama sounds out Western allies on how far to go to intervene in Syria’s conflict.

While British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande support Western action in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin is backing Assad.

Russian Weapons

“Russia supplies arms to the legitimate government of Syria according to international law,” Putin said yesterday in London after meeting with Cameron. “We breach nothing. And we call on our partners to act the same way.”

The Syrian army is mounting an offensive to retake Aleppo, the nation’s commercial center and largest city. The Syrian rebels’ Supreme Military Command, headed by Major General Salim Idris, has pleaded for heavy arms that go beyond the light weapons such as machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades that the U.S. is preparing to furnish.

Assad told the German newspaper he has no doubt that rebels “will be completely eliminated from our territory,” though said he was still open for political talks.

In Saudi Arabia, the Cabinet called on Islamic nations today to stand against supplying Syria’s “illegitimate regime” with weapons, ammunition and individuals “so that it would not be able to continue its aggression,” according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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