Syria fires more Scud missiles as refugee projections climb

NATO condemned Syria for firing Scud-type missiles yesterday, which Syria denies doing. The UN says the violence could result in as many as 1 million refugees over the next six months.

Manu Brabo/AP
A Syrian woman stands near fire to warm herself at a refugee camp in Azaz, Syria, Monday, Dec. 17. Thousands of Syrian refugees fled their homes due to fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces.

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The head of NATO condemned the Syrian government's return to firing Scud-type missiles yesterday, saying they were "acts of a desperate regime approaching collapse."

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that surveillance captured evidence of the firing of fresh rounds of missiles yesterday morning, Reuters reports, while American officials confirmed independently to The New York Times that the Scud missiles had resumed after an apparent lull from their initial use last week.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem denied the reports as "untrue rumors," according to the Times.

CBS reports that a half-dozen Scuds were fired overnight from an Army base near Damascus toward a nearby rebel base.

Gen. Rasmussen's comments were echoed in the worries of Syrian rebel chief Salim Idris, who told CBS News that he is "very afraid" President Bashar al-Assad will resort to firing chemical weapons using Scuds. He said his contacts still with the regime said that the Syrian Army is preparing to use the missiles in the rebel-controlled northwest. 

There is not much additional concrete information about the use of Scud missiles in Syria, CBS notes, because they are "mobile" and it is "hard to pinpoint from where they were fired." They are also not very accurate. 

CNN reports that analysts believe that the Assad regime has as many as 400 Scud missiles on hand

Rasmussen cited the past 24 hours' events today as he defended the NATO deployment of Patriot antimissile systems along the Syrian-Turkish border. 

"The fact that such missiles are used in Syria emphasizes the need for effective defense protection of our ally Turkey," he told reporters today, according to Reuters. "The recent launch of missiles has not hit Turkish territory but of course there is a potential threat and this is exactly the reason why NATO allies decided to deploy Patriot missiles in Turkey, for a defensive purpose only."  

In a move heavily criticized by Syria, Iran, and Russia, NATO recently approved the placement of an American, Dutch, and German Patriot antimissile system along the border of NATO member Turkey. The deployment of the battery requires troops to operate the missiles, as well – the US is sending 400 to the area, according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the United Nations revised its refugee projection numbers again – at least the fourth time it has done so – bringing the estimate up to 1 million in the next six months, according to a separate New York Times report.

Panos Moumtzis, the UN regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, said the new forecast was based on the fact that 2,000 to 3,000 Syrians are fleeing across national borders every day. Mr. Moumtzis added that the number of refugees could reach 1.85 million if there were a mass exodus from the country, the Times reports.

Radhouane Nouicer, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said yesterday that "there are nearly no more safe areas where people can flee and find safety."

The UN is seeking $1 billion for refugees outside Syria and $519 million to boost its aid provisions for 4 million people inside Syria – 20 percent of the country's population. 

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