A damaged area is pictured after a car bomb in Qatana, near DamascusReutersThe Syrian regime has fired Scud missiles at rebel forces trying to oust Bashar al-Assad, a U.S. official has admitted, according to AFP.
“Scuds landed within Syria,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A report in The New York Times on Wednesday indicated that Syrian forces loyal to Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days.
The move represents a significant escalation in the fighting, which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict and suggests increased desperation on the part of the Assad government.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, according to AFP, that “we’re seeing missiles employed now” but she refused to divulge intelligence on what type of missile.
However, the U.S. official speaking later said he could confirm the New York Times story that the regime was unleashing Scuds.
There was no word of any casualties caused by the Soviet-era weapons, famously fired into Israel by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War in 1991.
The unguided, short-range ballistic Scud missiles, depending on the type employed, have a range of 200 kilometers or more.
Putting further pressure on the Assad regime on Wednesday, Arab and Western states recognized the opposition National Coalition as the sole representative of Syrians.
The declaration, issued at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Morocco, coincided with battlefield gains by jihadists fighting Assad’s forces and a rapidly deteriorating refugee situation as winter sets in.
“Today, full recognition is given to the National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani told a news conference after the meeting his government hosted in Marrakesh, according to AFP.
The talks on the 21-month-old conflict brought together representatives from 114 countries, including about 60 ministers, the Syrian opposition and international organizations.
They came just a day after U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed the National Coalition, following a similar move by the European Union.
Under pressure to unite, the opposition agreed on November 11 to establish the coalition and group the various rebel forces under a supreme military council.
But jihadist rebels in Aleppo, a key front line in northern Syria, rejected the agreement, saying they want an Islamic state.
Among them is the Al-Nusra Front, which the United States blacklisted on Tuesday as a terrorist organization, citing links to Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Meanwhile on Thursday, a top Russian official asserted that Assad’s days are numbered, an unusual statement coming from one of Assad’s long time allies.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s top envoy for Syria, said that recent events in Syria show that the government’s grip on the fighting is slipping and that the rebels stand a real chance of defeating Assad.