Assad fires Scud missiles at Syria rebels

International

MICHAEL R GORDON & ERIC SCHMITT

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday.

An American official said that missiles had been fired from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria. "The total is number is probably north of six now," said another American official, and that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.

It is not clear how many casualties resulted from the attacks by the Scuds — a class of Soviet-era designed missiles. But it appeared to be the first that the Assad government had fired the missiles at targets inside Syria.

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."

The Obama administration has yet to comment publicly on the missile attacks, but a senior administration official alluded to the development in a briefing for reporters on Tuesday.

The developments came as representatives of more than 100 countries and organisations that support the anti-Assad movement met in Morocco and endorsed a newly formed insurgent coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

President Barack Obama formally acknowledged that coalition, known as the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, in an interview with ABC on Tuesday.

"At this point we have a well-organised-enough coalition that we can recognise them as the legitimate representative of Syrian people," Obama said.

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