Airstrikes across Syria
Fighting in Syria between rebel forces and the government escalates, with both sides trying to gain territory, especially around the suburbs of Damascus.PT0M57S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2atyj 620 349 December 5, 2012
UNITED NATIONS, New York: The United Nations has suspended operations in Syria and begun withdrawing its non-essential staff as the civil conflict raged and the regime of the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, was prompted to promise it would never use chemical weapons against its own people.
A UN spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said on Monday the organisation was suspending its Syria missions indefinitely, amid fresh bloodshed in the war that has already claimed an estimated 41,000 lives since starting in March last year.
The UN pullout coincided with the US voicing concerns that Mr Assad's forces might be weighing up the use of chemical weapons.
Russian President Viladimir Putin, left, met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks covering their opposing views on Syria. Photo: AFP
US media reports earlier said the Syrian military had been detected moving the weapons around. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, warned on Monday their deployment would cross a ''red line''.
''We are concerned that an increasingly beleaguered regime … may be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people,'' the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said.
In televised remarks, a Syrian foreign ministry official said Syria would ''never, under any circumstances, use chemical weapons against its own people, if such weapons exist''.
The latest developments at the UN came after the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, warned Turkey that the NATO deployment of Patriot missiles along its border with Syria could exacerbate tensions.
He met the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an Istanbul summit that failed to yield a common response to Syria's conflict.
Russia vehemently objects to Turkey's NATO request for the deployment of Patriot missiles as Mr Assad's regime clings to power and suppresses a rebellion.
Moscow has warned that such a deployment could spark a broader conflict, pulling in the Western military alliance.
Mr Putin underscored the point on Monday, on the eve of a NATO meeting in Brussels that is expected to decide on Ankara's request.
''As they say, if a gun is hung on the wall at the start of a play, then at the end of the play it will definitely fire,'' Mr Putin said at a joint media conference with Mr Erdogan.
''Why should we need extra shooting at the border? We are urging restraint.''
Though Turkey and Russia have growing trade and energy links, they remain at loggerheads over Syria.
Moscow is a staunch ally of Damascus, routinely blocking resolutions against Mr Assad's regime at the UN Security Council, while Ankara's relationship with its neighbour has collapsed over the conflict and a series of cross-border shellings and other incidents.
Turkish tensions with Russia came to a head in October when Turkey intercepted a Syrian plane flying from Moscow to Damascus on suspicion that it had military cargo, drawing an angry response from Russia, which said it was carrying non-restricted radar equipment.
Some 120,000 Syrian refugees have streamed across the border into Turkey, with many more seeking safety in other neighbouring countries.
Mr Putin said Russia is not necessarily a supporter of the Syrian regime but was concerned about how it would be replaced.
''We are not inveterate defenders of the current regime in Syria,'' Mr Putin was quoted as saying by Russian state television. ''Other things worry us, like what will happen in the future.''