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Monday, September 2, 2013

Assad warns France: Attack against Syria will trigger repercussions

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday scorned allegations that his forces were behind chemical attacks in Damascus last month and warned that any French military action against his government would trigger negative repercussions.

Assad's remarks came after a French government source said that a declassified report had revealed that the Syrian president carried out a "massive and coordinated" chemical attack on August 21.

In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro, the Syrian president rebuffed both U.S. and French declarations that they had proof of his government's involvement in the attack.

"Those who make accusations must show evidence. We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof. [Presidents Barack] Obama and [Francois] Hollande have been incapable of doing so," Assad told Le Figaro.

"Anybody who contributes to the financial and military reinforcement of terrorists is the enemy of the Syrian people. If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people, the state will be their enemy," he said. "There will be repercussions, negative ones obviously, on French interests."

The nine-page French document - issued by external and military intelligence services and to be presented to lawmakers later on Monday - lays out five points that suggest Assad was behind the attacks. "This poses a major threat to national and global security," the source said.

The intelligence includes satellite imagery showing the attacks coming from government-controlled areas to the east and west of Damascus and targeting rebel-held zones. The source said Assad's forces had since bombed the areas to wipe out evidence.

"Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorizing people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory," the source said.

Also Monday, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and four other ships in its strike group moved into the Red Sea in what U.S. defense officials described as "prudent planning" in case the vessels were needed for military action against Syria.

U.S. officials said that the strike group sent to the Red Sea had not received any orders to move into the Mediterranean, where five U.S. destroyers and an amphibious ship remain poised for possible cruise missile strikes against Syria.

Along with these developments, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday he had seen evidence convincing him that Syrian authorities were behind a deadly chemical weapons attack and said it would send a "dangerous signal to dictators" if the world did not react with a "firm response".

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