NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has accused Syria of using Scud-type missiles in "desperation" to halt rebel attacks. UN officials warn that Syrian minorities are increasingly at risk of reprisal attacks by rebels.
Rasmussen told reporters at the Western military alliance's headquarters in Brussels on Friday that NATO surveillance had detected launches of Soviet-era "Scud-type" missiles inside Syria.
A NATO source quoted by the news agency Reuters said there had been multiple launches of short-range missiles inside Syria on Thursday morning. Last week, President Bashar Assad's administration denied using Scuds for the first time in Syria's 21-month conflict.
"I consider (them to be the) acts of a desperate regime approaching collapse," Rassmussen said on Friday.
This showed, he added, that NATO had been justified in deciding to deploy Patriot anti-missile systems to alliance-member Turkey, which borders northern Syria.
"The recent launch of missiles has not hit Turkish territory but of course there is a potential threat and this is exactly the reason why NATO allies decided to deploy Patriot missiles in Turkey, for a defensive purpose only," Rasmussen said.
Dutch parliament backs Patriot deployment
Late on Thursday, the Dutch parliament endorsed the deployment in early January of two Patriot units with 360 Dutch soldiers to Turkey – similar to Patriot unit deployments planned by Germany and United States at Turkey's request (pictured above).
Syrian government troops and opposition rebels fought near the military compounds of Assad's Republican Guards in the capital Damascus on Friday, according to activist quoted by the German news agency DPA.
Syrian state television said troops were engaged in heavy clashes in the area with "terrorists" – a government term referring to rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least seven rebels had been killed in clashes with troops in the northern city of Aleppo. The rebels had been trying to seize a government air base in the adjacent town of al-Safira.
The observatory said the base has numerous military factories.
Traumatized residents facing winter
The news agency AFP says Aleppo residents traumatized by months of urban warfare now face a lack of foodstuffs such as bread and fuel as winter sets in.
Battles between Assad loyalists and rebels have left many city areas cut off from supplies. A spokesman for a Czech aid group - People in Need - in Aleppo said: "We have no idea how they will get through the winter. There is almost no international aid present on the ground, especially deeper inside Syria."
Reprisals likely, says UN
A United Nation's anti-genocide advisor Adama Dieng has warned that minority groups, including President Assad's fellow Alawites, face the risk of major reprisal attacks.
"I am deeply concerned that entire communities risk paying the price for crimes committed by the Syrian government," said Dieng in a statement released at the UN's headquarters in New York.
In Geneva, UN human rights investigators said Thursday that Syria's conflict was becoming more sectarian. Civilians were arming themselves and foreign fighters – mostly Sunnis – were flocking in from 29 countries.
ipj/rg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)