The 2-year-old conflict between the Syrian government and its opposition that has killed 40,000 civilians and threatens to destabilize the Middle East was escalated in recent days when forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fired Soviet-era Scud missiles at rebel fighters, American officials said Wednesday.
Anonymous American sources said more than six such missiles have likely been fired in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, one of the main militant insurgent groups. The strikes have caused an unknown number of casualties.
The use of heavier, long-range arms suggests an escalation of the conflict that could provoke a military response from Turkey should missiles fall near or within its border.
The attacks came amid an announcement Tuesday that “the United States would formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative, in an attempt to intensify the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to give up his nearly two-year bloody struggle to stay in power,” The New York Times reported.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
The New York Times:
American officials did not say how they had monitored the missile firings, but American intelligence has been closely following developments in Syria through aerial surveillance and other methods, partly out of concern that Mr. Assad may resort to the use of chemical weapons in the conflict.
The Obama administration views the Assad government’s use of Scud missiles as a “significant escalation” of the conflict, said a senior official. It also shows, he said, the increasing pressure on Mr. Assad, since Scuds are primarily defensive weapons, being used by the government offensively against a counterinsurgency.
“Using Scuds to target tanks or military bases is one thing,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Using them to target rebels hiding in playgrounds at schools is something else.”
Syrian men use sledgehammers to break the concrete of a residential building destroyed in a government airstrike in Maarat Misreen on Wednesday.