AL-QAEDA-LINKED Syrian jihadist group Al-Nusra Front yesterday vowed revenge strikes against villages from President Bashar al-Assad’s community over claims his forces used chemical weapons.
Syria’s main opposition body, the National Coalition, has accused Assad’s forces of “massacring” more than 1 300 people in chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on Wednesday, which his regime has denied.
“The Alawite villages will pay the price for each chemical rocket that struck our people in Damascus,” Al-Nusra front chief Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani said in an audio message posted on the Internet and on his Twitter account, adding that “one thousand rockets will be used for this purpose”.
“It is a debt towards . . . our relatives in the eastern Ghouta,” he said.
“This regime attacked the eastern region (of Damascus province) with dozens of chemical rockets that killed hundreds of children, women and men,” Jawlani said, calling on opposition fighters across the country to take revenge.
Jawlani also suggested that the revenge attacks could take place as soon as Sunday, calling on “the soldiers of Al-Nusra” to “spread their fire… before the end of the day and the setting of the sun”.
Assad hails from the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam unlike most Sunni rebel groups fighting to topple him, including Al-Nusra, whose chief in March pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government has warned the US not to launch any military action against the country over an alleged chemical-weapons attack earlier last week, saying that such a move would set the Middle East ablaze.
Saturday’s statement by Omran al-Zoubi, Syria’s information minister, came on the same day that US President Barack Obama held a meeting with his top military and national security advisers to explore options to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Thousands of people suffered neurotoxic symptoms and 355 of them died following Wednesday’s alleged chemical-weapons attack in Damascus, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Saturday.
The development has put on pressure the US to look into various options on Syria as Obama defined the use of chemical weapons as his “red line” in the crisis.
World powers have repeatedly urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to allow UN chemical weapons inspectors to examine the sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used.
In an interview with the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, Zoubi dismissed the possibility of a US attack, saying that such a move would risk spawning more violence in the region.
“The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East,” he said. “An attack on Syria would be no easy trip.”
In Tehran, Abbas Arakji, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, warned that a US military intervention in Syria would “complicate matters”.
“Sending warships will not solve the problems but will worsen the situation,” Arakji said in comments carried by Iran’s Arabic-language TV Al-Alam.
He said any such US move does not have international backing and that Iran “rejects military solutions”.
The comments by Syrian and Iranian officials followed those by Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, who said in a statement yesterday that the Pentagon was prepared to carry out military options on Syria should Obama order them.
Hagel, whose week-long trip to Asia is being overshadowed by Syria tensions, participated remotely in Saturday’s meeting at the White House concerning Syria.
Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, Hagel said the US was still gathering the facts about the Syrian government’s alleged use of poison gas against civilians.
But he noted that the US military, which is repositioning its naval forces in the Mediterranean to give Obama the option for an armed strike, was ready to act if asked. “President Obama has asked the Defence Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that and we are prepared to exercise whatever option — if he decides to employ one of those options,” Hagel said.
Syria’s two-and-a-half-year conflict has killed and wounded thousands more, according to the UN.
The UN says more than 100 000 people have been killed during the Syrian conflict, which started with peaceful protests against decades of Assad family rule but turned into a civil war following a crackdown.
The international organisation says that the conflict displaced nearly two million Syrians, including one million children. Al Jazeera