Syria government warns any U.S. intervention would "inflame Mideast"

by Aug 25, 2013

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian authorities warned the United States against any military action over a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria's civil war, saying this would "create a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East".

U.S. President Barack Obama and top advisers are hashing out options for responding to the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria amid what Britain called "increasing signs" that the Syrian government was responsible for Wednesday's nerve gas attack on civilians in a rebel-dominated area.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government has accused the insurgents of firing the chemical weapons "as a last resort" to try to provoke foreign intervention on their side.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi, in remarks released by the official news agency SANA late on Saturday night, said that any U.S.-led military action would be "no picnic".

"U.S. military intervention will create a very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East," Zoabi said.

He also suggested that U.N. inspectors would not be allowed to visit the site of the alleged nerve gas attack as it was not part of a previously agreed list of locations where opposition activists say government forces used chemical weapons. Syrian authorities have denied any use of poison gas in the conflict.

Zoabi said Damascus would cooperate "significantly and transparently" with U.N. investigations but not allow any "inspection that will prejudice national sovereignty".

Iran, Assad's most powerful Middle East ally, warned the United States against crossing the "red line" on Syria, saying this would have "severe consequences".

"America knows the limitation of the red line of the Syrian front and any crossing of Syria's red line will have severe consequences for the White House," Massoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.

He was responding to weekend statements by Western officials regarding the possibility of military intervention in Syria.

Syrian opposition reports that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed on Wednesday by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims' bodies, have stoked Western demands for a robust response after two years of international inaction on Syria's conflict.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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