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Assad: Striking Syria Could Lead to a Regional War

Syrian President challenges the world to provide proof that his regime attacked civilians with chemical weapons.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/3/2013, 12:12 AM

President Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-Assad
AFP photo

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad challenged the United States and France on Monday to produce proof that his regime attacked civilians with poison gas, warning in an interview that any military strikes against Syria would risk triggering a regional war.

"The Middle East is a powder keg, and today the flame is coming very near. We cannot talk merely about the Syrian response, but about what might take place after the first strike. But nobody knows what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. There is a risk of regional war," Assad told the French newspaper Le Figaro.

He dismissed the findings from both the United States and France, which have both said they have proof that his regime was behind an August 21 chemical attack near Damascus, which the U.S. said killed more than 1,400 people.

"It is for those who are making the accusations to provide the proof. We have challenged the United States and France to put forward a single proof. Obama and Hollande have been unable to do so, even to their own people,” said Assad.

“I'm not at all suggesting that the Syrian army does or does not possess such weapons. Let's suppose that our army wishes to use WMD: is it really going to do so in an area where it is actually present and where soldiers have been wounded by these weapons, as the UN inspectors found during their visit to the hospital where they were being treated? Where is the logic in that?" he said.

On Monday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault shared intelligence with lawmakers which he said proves the chemical attack on 21 August came from government forces.

The dossier shared with the French parliament reportedly includes satellite images showing a large offensive on the Damascus neighborhood of Ghouta coming from government controlled areas to the east and west of the area held by rebel forces.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the administration had new evidence that sarin gas was used in the chemical attack.

"We know that the regime ordered this attack," he said. "We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards."

There has been pressure on President Barack Obama to respond to the chemical attack by striking in Syria.

The United States has delayed its military strike on Syria for now, with Obama announcing on Saturday that he plans to wait for Congress' approval before deciding whether to intervene in Syria.