Jordan Takes Chemical-Weapon Precautions Along Syrian Border

Jordan has taken precautions along its border against the possibility that Syrian authorities may use chemical weapons in their fight against rebel groups, Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said.

“Of course we have to be worried,” Ensour said in an interview today at his office in the Jordanian capital Amman. “We cannot take for granted the assertions that Syrian officials are making,” he said, referring to Syrian pledges not to use such weapons to crush the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.

Ensour said the measures include provisions for medical aid, without giving further details. He said they “could lessen the casualties but they would not safeguard the whole society.” Asked whether the U.S., an ally and financial supporter of Jordan, had helped with the preparations, Ensour said that America and other “friendly governments” carried out a training exercise a few months ago that was “wholly technical” and had nothing to do with warfare.

Jordan, a mostly Sunni Muslim monarchy, is one of the main destinations along with Lebanon and Turkey for refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war that began in March 2011. Like allies including the U.S. and Sunni Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan has recognized the main Syrian opposition that’s fighting to oust Assad, whose core support is among Syrians from the Alawite community affiliated to Shiite Islam.

Ensour said there are 293,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, including 63,000 staying in camps.

Price Protests

The premier said he expects growth in Jordan’s economy to exceed 4 percent. The government’s decision to remove fuel subsidies in November sparked demonstrations against rising prices, the latest in a sporadic series of protests in Jordan since the start of the wave of Arab unrest two years ago. Jordan is due to hold parliamentary elections on Jan. 23.

Jordan is preparing to sell Eurobonds early this year, Ensour said, without giving details. The government plans to increase capital expenditure this year by 76 percent this year, including projects to combat unemployment and poverty, he said.

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