MOSCOW, August 27 (RIA Novosti) – Syria’s ruling regime will continue to fight the armed opposition even if a foreign military power intervenes, the Syrian foreign minister said Tuesday.
“If a military strike occurs, Syria will defend itself with all available means,” Minister Walid Muallem told journalists, adding that such intervention would only benefit al-Qaeda. “The [Syrian] army will not cease its operations around Damascus.”
Western powers are considering armed intervention in the two-year civil war after hundreds of people were killed last week in the capital in an apparent nerve gas attack that the opposition claimed was performed by government forces.
The Syrian government quickly denied the allegations and said it had evidence of rebel groups using chemical weapons. America’s ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, wrote on Facebook on Monday that “the Syrian regime has chemical weapons. The opposition does not.”
Muallem on Tuesday called on Western countries to provide proof that the government was using chemical weapons. He called such allegations “groundless” and only serving as a pretext for a possible armed invasion of Syria.
AFP cited Muallem as saying that Syria had defenses that could “surprise” the world.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later escalated into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, according to United Nations estimates.
A UN team of chemical weapons investigators started working in Damascus last week. The team is expected to visit three sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks, including the one last week in Ghouta, an eastern part of the city.
Western countries could launch an attack on Syria within days, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing sources who attended a meeting between US envoys and Syrian rebels.
The United Nations Security Council has so far not authorized any military intervention in the Syrian crisis. Moscow, along with Beijing, has previously vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
Russia has been Syria's most important ally during the civil war. Moscow has sent to Damascus some weapons that it said were being supplied under previously agreed deals.
Russia harshly criticized the United States on Tuesday for allegedly using “unproven excuses” to justify military action in Syria and said Moscow was “seriously disappointed” by Washington’s decision to put off a bilateral meeting to discuss the crisis.