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WAR REPORT
UN sending chemical weapons kits to Syria monitors
by Staff Writers
United Nations (AFP) Dec 17, 2012


Syria hits back at UN over Palestinian refugees
Damascus (AFP) Dec 17, 2012 - Syria on Monday hit back at the United Nations over the fate of Palestinian refugees after UN chief Ban Ki-moon voiced "grave concern" following a deadly air strike on Yarmuk camp in southern Damascus.

"The United Nations and international community are responsible for the frustrations of the Palestinians because they have not implemented UN resolutions related to their legitimate rights," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said.

"Syria offered something to our Palestinian brothers decades ago that no other Arab host country has offered," he told Ban in a telephone call, quoted by state news agency SANA.

The foreign minister was referring to the granting of equal social rights and to living conditions in Syria's Palestinian refugee camps, long considered the best in the region.

Sunday's air strike on Yarmuk carried out by the Syrian military was the first against the country's Palestinian refugee camps, whose residents are divided over the 21-month conflict between rebels and regime forces.

Clashes since Sunday have pitted the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command against rebel fighters, some of them also Palestinians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan said on Monday that street battles between the PFLP-GC and insurgents in Yarmuk had "forced the army to intervene with air attacks on the positions of the gunmen."

Ban said the air attack on Sunday on Yarmuk camp was "a matter of grave concern," as activists said at least eight people were killed, and he warned both sides that attacks on civilians could amount to "war crimes".

"The secretary general is alarmed by the continued dramatic escalation of violence in Syria over the past several days, and the grave danger facing civilians in areas under fire," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Muallem said the jihadist Al-Nusra Front had entered the camp with artillery and attacked a hospital.

Washington last week blacklisted Al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organisation. Originally known for its deadly car bombings, the hardline group has become one of the most effective rebel forces on frontlines across Syria.

According to Muallem, the fighting in Yarmuk was between "terrorist groups receiving financial support and arms from some neighbouring countries and the popular committees of the PFLP-GC".

"Be careful, Palestinian brothers," the foreign minister warned. "Do not harbour or assist these terrorist groups who are alien to the camp, but work to expel them."

He stressed that "the Palestinian cause, the legitimate rights of her people and liberation of the occupied territories are the goals that Syria is struggling to achieve."

The United Nations is sending chemical weapons kits to UN troops in the Golan Heights because of growing fears over Syria's deadly non-conventional arsenal, officials said Monday.

UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous briefed the UN Security Council on efforts to bolster the safety of the UN force, which monitors a ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel, after five troops were injured in attacks.

"We have taken measures to enhance security," he told reporters after the meeting.

"For those personnel who are not equipped on a national basis we are sending them some kits to protect them from chemical attack, if that were to happen."

Extra armored cars have also been sent from other missions to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has been monitoring a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974.

There are about 1,000 unarmed troops from Austria, Croatia, India, Japan and Philippines in UNDOF. The Indian troops, at least, are known not to have chemical weapon protection.

Five Austrians were wounded, two seriously, when a convoy taking US troops from the Golan Heights to Damascus airport came under attack earlier this month. There have been a number of incidents in the ceasefire zone this year.

"There have been increasing difficulties fulfilling its mandate," Ladsous said. "The multiplication of incidents is really a concern."

The United States said earlier this month that it had intelligence showing Syria was considering using its chemical weapons. US President Barack Obama led international warnings to President Bashar al-Assad over the arsenal.

Ladsous also confirmed that the United Nations is drawing up contingency plans to send a possible international force to Syria if the government collapses, but the UN peacekeeping chief gave no details.

"It is contingency planning based on a number of possible scenarios. But the work is going on," he said.

Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari said, meanwhile, that Damascus is "genuinely worried" that some countries might equip extremist groups with chemical weapons and then claim they were used by the government.

Jaafari also accused the United States of backing "terrorist" groups in Syria in a letter to UN leader Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council which was released Monday.

The letter reaffirmed the Assad government's denial that it would use chemical weapons.

"It is defending its people from terrorists backed by well-known states, at the forefront of which is the United States of America," Jaafari said.

"We are genuinely worried that certain states that support terrorism and terrorists could provide the armed terrorist groups with chemical weapons, and then claim they had been used by the Syrian Government," he wrote.

The US says it only provides non-lethal equipment to rebels fighting Assad and humanitarian aid to the country as a whole.

The Syrian government accuses Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States and other Western governments of arming the rebels.

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