Syria says it will not use chemical weapons against its own people after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the issue remains a “red line” that would prompt direct American intervention.
The diplomatic sparing comes as Syrian government forces bombed rebel positions in the border town of Ras al-Ain Monday, killing at least 12 people and prompting Turkey to scramble fighter jets along the border.
Speaking to reporters in Prague, Clinton said the United States was “certainly planning to take action” if “credible evidence” surfaced that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people.
The Syrian foreign ministry, responding swiftly, said Damascus “would not use chemical weapons, if it had them, against its own people under any circumstances.” The statement was reported on Syrian state television.
Clinton's comments followed a report in The New York Times that quotes American and Israeli officials who refer to signs in recent days of “heightened activity at some of Syria's chemical weapons sites.”
Western powers have rejected direct military intervention during the 20-month crisis in Syria, but warned that the use of chemical weapons by the government would trigger a response.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish ambulances rushed to the border following the Syrian attack on Ras al-Ain, and brought at least 11 wounded Syrians to the hospital in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar for treatment.
Officials said shrapnel from the bombing landed on Turkish territory, but no one was injured.
Opposition activists said government forces also shelled the Damascus suburbs, a day after carrying out deadly air strikes and rocket attacks against rebel-held areas.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul Monday to discuss sharp differences over the near 21-month Syrian conflict.
Russia also objects to Turkey's request to NATO for the deployment of Patriot missiles on its volatile border with Syria to bolster its air defenses.
A senior State Department official said Monday that if NATO signs off on the plan, it would likely still be “a matter of weeks” before the missiles are deployed. NATO foreign ministers are meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels.