Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials said on Wednesday.
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 that has threatened to destabilize the Middle East, and suggests increased desperation on the part of the Assad government.
One American official, who asked not to be identified because he was discussing classified information, said that missiles had been fired from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria.
“The total is number is probably north of six now,” said another American official, and that the targets were in areas controlled by the Free Syrian Army, the main armed insurgent group.
It is not clear how many casualties resulted from the attacks by the Scuds — a class of Soviet-era designed missiles made famous by Saddam Hussein of Iraq during the first Gulf War. But it appeared to be the first that the Assad government had fired the missiles at targets inside Syria.
Last week, NATO announced that it would deploy six Patriot missile-defense batteries to Turkey’s border with Syria, which have been described a solely defensive placements, but could constrain Assad’s attacks on rebel-controlled areas near the border.
President Obama announced last night in an interview with Barbara Walters that the U.S. will be recognizing the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, a move that was expected to occur today at a summit in Marrakesh.