Rebels circle Damascus airport; Russia, U.S. downbeat

Fighting around the capital city has intensified over the past week

Colonel Riad Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army rebel force, and General Hussein Haj Ali, the highest-ranking officer to defect from Assad’s military, were among those excluded. NATO decided this week to send U.S., German and Dutch batteries of air-defense missiles to the Turkish border, putting hundreds of American and European NATO troops close to the frontier with Syria for the first time in the crisis.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO said the move risked dragging the alliance into the conflict. “This is not a threat to us, but this is an indication that NATO is moving toward engagement, and that’s it,” Alexander Grushko said. “We see a threat of further involvement of NATO in the Syrian situation as a result of some provocation or some incidents on the border, if they take place.

The Dutch on Friday said they would send two Patriot batteries with up to 360 personnel. Germany approved its mission on Thursday. The United States and its NATO allies have issued coordinated warnings in recent days to Assad not to use chemical weapons, prompting Syria to accuse Western countries of conjuring the threat to justify a military intervention.

Syria has not signed an international chemical weapons treaty banning poison gas, but has repeatedly said that it would never use such weapons on its own people. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “We have no confirmed reports on this matter. However, if it is the case, then it will be an outrageous crime in the name of humanity.”


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