Syria’s warning to the west: military action will have grave consequences

Damascus seeks to exploit worries about prominence of jihadi elements in opposition to Assad regime

Bashar al-Jaafari Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations: ‘We should keep in mind what happened in Iraq and Libya.’ Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Syria is warning of “grave consequences” if US-led military action goes ahead to punish President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters outside the security council in New York on Wednesday that the effect could be felt across the Middle East. “We should keep in mind what happened in Iraq and Libya”, the envoy said, adding that the toppling of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi by Nato-backed rebels in 2011 had “spread terrorists all over Africa”.

Damascus broadcast similar messages, clearly seeking to exploit US and western worries about the prominence of jihadi elements in the opposition to Assad – one of the main reasons for disarray in international responses to the Syrian crisis.

The US, Britain and France had helped “terrorists” use chemical weapons in Syria, Faisal Miqdad, the deputy foreign minister, told reporters in the capital. The same groups, he predicted, would soon use them against Europe. Miqdad told the Guardian this spring that British and French plans to arm the anti-Assad rebels meant in effect supporting al-Qaida.

Wael al-Halqi, the prime minister, pledged that Syria would become a “graveyard” for any invader and would not be terrorised by “colonialist threats”. US, western and Israeli use of “lies and false pretences like the use of chemical weapons” were a reaction to what he called “the victories of the Syrian army over terrorism” – standard terminology for the rebels. The world remembered the lies used by these countries to “mislead international public opinion before invading Iraq,” he said.

Halqi said that the countries “that are beating the drums of war against Syria are the same ones who committed massacres in Iraq, Lebanon and other countries, exploited the resources of the Arab people and have committed massacres against the Palestinian people since 1948.”

The al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups were “pawns of Washington and Israel” he told MPs from Raqqa, Aleppo and Hasaka, according to the official Sana state news agency.

Jaafari urged the US, UK and France, leading the push for intervention, to back off and allow UN weapons inspectors to complete their investigation into last week’s chemical attack outside Damascus. The sole purpose of the threat of airstrikes was “undermining the inspection team.” Jaafari added: “We are not war mongers, we are a peaceful nation seeking stability in the area. The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all means – this is a moral obscenity.”

Responding to reports that Israeli intelligence had intercepted “panicked” phone calls between an official of the Syrian defence ministry and the commander of an army chemical weapons unit, the envoy accused the Israelis of leading the drive for Washington to attack his country. “The only party that benefits from this instability is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories,” he said.

Asked whether Syria or its allies would attack Israel in the wake of western intervention, Jaafari replied: “We have the right to self-defence. Those who commit a crime against one of the founding members of the United Nations should accept the consequences of their actions.”

Miqdad said he had presented the UN inspectors with evidence that “armed terrorist groups” had used sarin gas at all the sites of alleged attacks. “We repeat that the terrorist groups are the ones that used (chemical weapons) with the help of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, and this has to stop,” he said. “This means these chemical weapons will soon be used by the same groups against the people of Europe.”

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