Middle East

Syria regime denies firing Scud missiles at rebels: report

A general view of destruction after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Hayan, near Aleppo February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Majed Abed Al-Noor/Shaam News Network/Handout

DAMASCUS: The Syrian regime has denied firing Scud missiles at armed rebels, including in Aleppo where activists say 58 people were killed when missiles hit the northern city, a Russian broadcaster quoted a Syrian minister as saying on Monday.

The regime "denies the use by Syrian forces of Scud missiles in battles against the armed opposition," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in an interview with Arabic-language Russia Today.

Syria's opposition and activists have accused the regime army of firing three powerful missiles at Aleppo city from military base 155 near Damascus on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 58 people, among them 36 children, were killed when the surface-to-surface missiles struck the Tariq al-Bab district in eastern Aleppo city.

The strikes triggered severe condemnation from Washington which described the incident as "the latest demonstrations of the Syrian regime's ruthlessness and its lack of compassion for the Syrian people it claims to represent".

In a separate interview, Zohbi denied allegations that members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were fighting alongside the Syrian army against rebels.

"There isn't a single Iranian -- Revolutionary Guard or otherwise -- on the battlefield, or intervening directly in the Syrian army's mission," Zohbi told Iranian Arabic-language television channel Al-Alam.

Any suggestion that Iranians have joined the battle against the insurgency is "an attempt to undermine the Syrian state and Iran", he said, adding that it is "difficult to sabotage ... historic" relations between Damascus and its key regional ally Tehran.

He also dismissed reports that fighters of Lebanon's Hezbollah were participating in the regime's fight against rebels.

"One thing needs to be made absolutely clear, there is not a single Hezbollah fighter in Syria," said Zohbi.

"This is pure deception, the Syrian army has absolutely no need of such help," he said, insisting that the army needed neither "fighters nor weapons".

The rebels "want to justify the intervention of terrorist fighters coming to Syria from several countries", Zohbi said, referring to the influx of foreign fighters who have joined the insurgency.

Syria's opposition has accused Hezbollah of firing at rebel positions inside the strife-torn country from across the Lebanese border.





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