UK & World News
Syria Issues Warning Over Chemical Weapons
Syria's foreign ministry has issued a veiled threat over foreign intervention in the country - warning it would only use chemical weapons if it faced "external aggression".
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said any chemical or bacterial weapons were securely stored by the armed forces.
"The ministry wants to re-affirm the stance of the Syrian Arab Republic that any chemical or bacterial weapon will never be used - and I repeat will never be used - during the crisis in Syria regardless of the developments," he said.
"These weapons are stored and secured by Syrian military forces and under its direct supervision and will never be used unless Syria faces external aggression."
British Foreign Secretary condemned the comments, labelling them "unacceptable".
"This is typical of the complete illusion of this regime, that they are the victims of external aggression," he told reporters at a European Union foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
"What is actually happening is their own people are rising up against a brutal police state... and in any case it is unacceptable to say that they would use chemical weapons under any circumstances".
The statements come as Syrian rebels remain in control of the town of Azaz in the country's north, where they won a significant victory against government forces.
Fighting rages across Syria despite claims by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that President Bashar al Assad's regime is "collapsing".
There were huge celebrations in Azaz, 20 miles to the north of Syria's largest city of Aleppo, after it fell into rebel hands on Thursday.
Sky's Stuart Ramsay, who was in Azaz, said: "What a battle this has been. It ended a couple of days ago but the centre of town is still smoking. The streets are littered with the debris of war."
Ramsay says the rebels are now talking of taking Aleppo - where street battles have been captured in image
Syria's foreign ministry issues a veiled threat on foreign intervention - that it would only use chemical weapons if facing "external aggression."
The rebels also say they have captured a border crossing with Turkey: Bab al Salam, north of Aleppo.
Further south, opposition activists in the capital of Damascus say government troops, under the command of Mr Assad's brother, have executed at least 20 unarmed men in a northern district of the city.
They say the men were all aged between 20 and 30, and were rounded up after being accused of aiding rebels in the area.
Government forces launched the determined counter-offensive since rebels brought their battle to overthrow Mr Assad to the capital and killed four of the President's closest associates in a bomb attack last Wednesday.
As the bloody battles intensify, UK-based group War Child said young Syrians were being deliberately murdered in execution-style killings, raped, abused, used as human shields and even enlisted against their will to fight.
A report by War Child urged the UK Government to step up efforts to protect children caught up in the fighting, saying it believed between 500 and 1,300 children had been killed, while eight-year-olds were being enlisted as soldiers.
Girls and boys aged 12 have been sexually abused, more than 600 children have been placed in detention centres where torture is commonplace and 49 children were massacred in one incident, said the report.
One 10-year-old girl saw her father killed, saying: "I recognised him from his boots. His face was covered in blood. My mum was shaking him."
The report said the Syrian conflict was "disturbingly unique" in its deliberated targeting of children, warning that no child was now safe.
Rob Williams, chief executive of War Child, which is providing emergency assistance to Syrian children refugees in Lebanon, said: "The Syrian conflict must now rank as one of the worst for the depth and scale of abuses against children.
"When adults go to war they have a legal duty to protect children yet neither side is protecting children in the areas they control.
"In fact, there are deliberate violations of thousands of innocent children including murder, rape and abduction. These actions will scar Syria for generations.
"The UK has consistently failed to achieve any kind of influence to curb these gross abuses. It must now ensure its diplomatic efforts directly target the exploitation and killing of children, and build a child-sensitive dimension into its work in the future."
Meanwhile, ministers from Arab nations meeting in Doha have urged the opposition and the Free Syrian Army to form a transitional government.
In a joint statement after their meeting, the Arab League foreign ministers called on Mr Assad to "renounce power", promising that he and his family would be offered "a safe exit".
"There is agreement on the need for the rapid resignation of President Bashar al Assad," Qatar prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani said.