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Official: Syrian forces fire Scuds at rebels

9:12 AM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
Free Syrian Army fighters look for government forces during heavy clashes in Aleppo, Syria, Dec. 11, 2012. / AP PHOTO
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(CBSNews.com) - Syrian government forces have fired Scud missiles in recent days at an ammunition dump seized by rebels, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. official told Martin the forces of President Bashar Assad fired six missiles in the past two or three days at the depot near Aleppo in northern Syria. The official asked not to be named because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Because Scud missiles are mobile, it's unclear from where they were fired, Martin reports. Depending on the model of the missile, Scuds can carry warheads weighing between 750 and 1,000 pounds, not that much more than a bomb. The missiles aren't very accurate, and some of them missed.

News of the missiles came on the same day that more than 100 countries, including the United States, recognized a new Syrian opposition coalition. That has further isolated Assad's regime and opened a way for greater humanitarian assistance to the forces battling to oust him.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press there was no indication that chemical weapons were aboard the missiles.

The Syrian military's recent movement of chemical weapons prompted the United States to warn Assad that he would be "held accountable" if his forces used them against the rebels. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that the Syrian government seems to have slowed preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons.

The story was first reported by The New York Times.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Assad has fired missiles, but wouldn't specify what kind.

"As the regime becomes more and more desperate, we see it resorting to increased lethality and more vicious weapons moving forward and we have in recent days seen missiles deployed," she said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, speaking to reporters, said he could not confirm the report, but said if true it would be a sign of desperation.

"The idea that the Syrian regime would launch missiles, within its borders, at its own people, is stunning, desperate and a completely disproportionate military escalation," Carney said.

The new development happened as officials planned an international conference to further assist opposition to Assad.

"This is the usual pattern of behavior that whenever there is an important decision that is anti-Assad taken by the international community, the Assad regime escalates the degree of violence to show its degree of displeasure," said Murhaf Jouejati, a specialist on Syrian affairs at the National Defense University. "Like saying, 'Oh, yeah? I'll call show you!'"

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