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Germany keeps quiet on reported spy ship off Syria

The German government has refused to comment on a report that information gathered by its intelligence operatives is being passed to Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, the US repeated a warning about any use of chemical weapons.

The German government did not comment on a report that information being gathered by the BND foreign intelligence agency is being indirectly passed on to Syrian rebels fighting to bring down the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman told reporters in Berlin on Monday that it was government policy not to publicly comment on the activities of Germany's intelligence services. At the same time though, Steffen Seibert said that the government would respond to any questions posed by the parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing intelligence agencies.

The opposition Greens and the Left Party have demanded an explanation. The Green Party Bundestag deputy, Hans-Christian Ströbele raised the possibility of calling a special meeting of the parliamentary intelligence committee to discuss the matter.

The discussion was sparked by a report published in this Sunday's edition of the Bild Am Sonntag newspaper. The report said that a BND spy ship operating in the Mediterranean was being used to gather information on things like troop movements in Syria. It also reported that BND agents operating out of Turkey were listening in on telephone and radio conversations in Syria.

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Germany's disaster-relief agency helps Syrian refugees

According to the report, the information gathered by the BND was being passed on to US and British intelligence services, which, in turn, were passing it on to Syrian rebels.

Weapons warning as observers leave

Late on Monday, US President Barack Obama repeated a warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad that Washington would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by the regime against the rebels. Obama said Assad faced "enormous consequences" if he crossed the "red line" of even moving unconventional weapons in a threatening way.

In Syria itself on Monday, fighting raged on as members of a team of United Nations military observers left the country following their ultimately ineffective four-month-long mission.

Almost all of the 300 observers who had been sent to Syria have now left the country, with only a few staying behind to operate a "liason office" Damascus.

"Our mission failed because the two sides did not abide by their commitments," an unnamed observer told a reporter from the Reuters news agency.

Their mandate had expired on Sunday night after UN diplomats determined that the conditions for a further extension of the mission had not been met.

Lakhdar Brahimi

A tough job ahead: Lakhdar Brahimi

Originally deployed to monitor a ceasefire brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the observers suspended their operations. Annan is being replaced as the UN-Arab League peace envoy by the former Algerian foreign minister, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Heavy fighting was reported in Daraa, where demonstrations calling for political reform began early in 2011, and the rebel-controlled Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 32 people had been killed in Daraa on Monday, while at least three others were killed in Mouadamiya. These, like other casualty figures coming out of Syria could not be independently verified due to severe restrictions on journalists in the country.

The UN estimates that at least 17,000 people have been killed in Syria since the Assad regime began its violent crackdown on dissent in March 2011.

Meanwhile, Japan confirmed that a female Japanese journalist was killed on Monday while covering the fighting in the city of Aleppo. Three other reporters were also said to be missing by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

pfd,rc / lw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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