MOSCOW, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Syrian rebels said Wednesday President Bashar Assad's regime is using the military to spread fear in neighborhoods of Damascus where government control is weak.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told The New York Times tanks and soldiers raided the Kafar Soussa neighborhood Wednesday morning and killed at least 24 people, while activists told the newspaper Syrian forces executed dozens of people in the Qaboun neighborhood, then quickly withdrew in what they termed "hit and run" attacks.
"Terror is the basic approach," Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Center for the Middle East, told the Times. "From the beginning of the uprising the logic was hit and hit hard, punish and scare, and that would be the way to do it," he said, adding, "It's a crazy logic, and it has not served them well."
Syria earlier called President Barack Obama's warning of possible U.S. military action in the 18-month-old conflict "propaganda," as 230 were reported killed.
Obama threatened military action against Syria Monday if evidence suggested Assad's regime was moving chemical or biological weapons.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," Obama told reporters at the White House.
"That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
"Obama's threats are simply propaganda linked to the U.S. elections," Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told reporters in Moscow Tuesday, as he stood alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following a meeting between the two.
Obama was simply looking for a pretext to justify interference, Jamil claimed. He said the same thing happened in 2003 when the George W. Bush administration justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq by alleging Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. No WMD were found in Iraq.
U.S. intelligence services allege Syria has major stockpiles of extremely toxic nerve agents including mustard gas, VX and Sarin gas and the missile and artillery systems to deliver them.
The nerve agents are classified as weapons of mass destruction by the U.N. Security Council.
Jamil alleged that "any direct military intervention in Syria is impossible."
"Those who contemplate it are rushing into a much wider confrontation, one that goes beyond the Syrian borders," he said.
Lavrov reiterated the Kremlin's longstanding opposition to foreign intervention and repeated Russia's desire to help the Assad regime and opposition forces reach their own settlement.
Jamil said Syria was open to discussing Assad's resignation, but insisted Assad's exit could never be a precondition for talks.
"As for his resignation, making his resignation a condition for dialogue effectively makes holding such a dialogue impossible," he said. "During the negotiating process any issues can be discussed, and we are ready to discuss even this issue."
Most Syrian opposition parties and rebels fighting in the country have said they will accept no solution to the crisis short of Assad's exit. Washington and other Western powers have taken a similar stance, backing an Arab League proposal that would have Assad hand over power to Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa.
The State Department said Tuesday it saw no change in the regime's position with Jamil's statements.