DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 21 (UPI) — Syria fired Scud missiles at rebel positions again, U.S. officials said, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was convinced the Assad regime would fall.
The four to six tactical ballistic missiles were fired in waves Thursday from Damascus toward rebel-held areas north of Aleppo near the Turkish border, the officials told several news organizations.
The missiles, which can travel 5 times the speed of sound, or 3,806 mph, did not appear armed with chemical weapons, they said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Neither the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights nor the Syria-based Local Coordination Committees of Syria immediately reported on the Scud attacks, a United Press International monitoring indicated, although the LCC reported “fierce artillery shelling” in several parts of the region.
The U.S. Defense Department would also not confirm the Scud attacks.
A spokesman told ABC News simply, “We have noted the Syrian regime’s use of Scud missiles in the conflict and that continues.”
U.S. officials said Dec. 12 the Assad regime fired at least six Scud missiles at the rebel-occupied Sheik Mahmud Suleiman military base north of Aleppo.
The officials said at the time they saw the Scud use as a major escalation of hostilities, even if the missiles missed the regime’s intended targets.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem later denied Syria used Scuds. In a statement, he called the reports “untrue rumors.”
Scuds are a class of Soviet-era missiles notorious for being fired by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during Operation Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf war.
Turkey had no immediate comment on the latest reported Scud firings.
NATO foreign ministers Dec. 4 approved sending U.S., Dutch and German MIM-104 Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries to Turkey to protect it from stray Syrian missiles.
Turkey, a former Syrian ally, has become one of President Bashar Assad’s most ardent critics, with Ankara serving as a major backer of opposition forces trying to topple Assad.
Washington is sending two Patriot batteries and 400 troops to operate them to the Turkish border with Syria.
At the same time, Putin said in Moscow he was resigned to the probability the Assad regime would fall.
“We are not that preoccupied with the fate of Assad’s regime,” Putin told reporters. “We understand what’s going on there and that his family has been in power for 40 years. Without a doubt, change is demanded.
“We’re worried about something else — what happens next,” he said. “We don’t simply want for today’s opposition, having come to power, to start fighting with the current authorities, who then become the opposition, and this continues forever.”
Putin said Moscow would not “leave Assad’s regime in power at any price.”
He said the first step would be for Syrians to “agree among themselves how they should live.”
Russia’s top envoy for Middle East affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, said last week it was “impossible to rule out a victory of the Syrian opposition” — a statement the U.S. State Department hailed as a shift from Russia but Moscow said meant no change in Russia’s position toward Syria.