Syria Firing Scud Missiles at Rebels, U.S. Says

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 12 2012 2:20 PM

Syria Firing Scud Missiles at Rebels, U.S. Says

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Dust settles as a Syrian rebel commander (C) points to the sky after they got targeted by a government airstrike and the plane dropping it's payload on the building across the road on the front line in the Aleppo neighbourood of Bustan al-Basr, on December 8, 2012

Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images.

The latest in a string of particularly ominous news out of Syria: Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have apparently begun firing Scud missiles at opposition fighters. According to U.S. officials who spoke to the New York Times, the attacks began on Monday and have continued since:

"The total is number is probably north of six now," said [one] American official, adding that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.
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It is not clear how many casualties resulted from the attacks by the Scuds — a class of Soviet-era missiles made famous by Saddam Hussein of Iraq during the first Persian Gulf war. But it appeared to be the first time that the Assad government had fired the missiles at targets inside Syria.

The news, which marks a pretty major escalation in the ongoing Syrian civil war, comes one day after that the Obama administration acknowledged a newly-formed opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Today, more than 100 nations attending a Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco announced their full recognition and political support for the opposition coalition.

Scud missiles are primarily defensive weapons, but they can be used to deliver chemical weapons long-range. That's why an unnamed official in the Obama administration described the attacks as a "significant escalation" in the 21-month Syrian conflict. The official also noted that the Assad regime appeared to be using the missiles to "target rebels hiding in playgrounds at schools."

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.