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NATO

Kerry urges NATO to deter Syrian chemicals threat

NATO members have been urged to draw up a contingency plan in the event of chemical weapons being used in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry made the appeal after fresh allegations of their use surfaced.

Kerry said on Tuesday that NATO should make plans about what it would do if the use of chemical weapons in Syria was proven.

"We should also carefully and collectively consider how NATO is prepared to respond to protect its members from a Syrian threat, including any potential chemical weapons threat," said Kerry, speaking in Brussels at his first NATO summit.

Israeli officials said on Tuesday they had obtained evidence that appeared to show forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, possibly the nerve gas sarin. Evidence for the allegations, from Israeli military's top intelligence Brigadier-General Itai Brun, included photographs that showed victims foaming at the mouth.

The US government has declined to give its definitive verdict, saying it is still studying evidence. President Barack Obama has said the use of such weapons would amount to crossing a "red line" that would result in unspecified action.

Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the situation in Syria. Lavrov told journalists he believed any evidence of chemical weapon use should be "studied carefully."

UN diplomats last week said Britain and France had provided what they thought to be "strong evidence" that chemical weapons had been used, to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Allies urged to aid rebels

At the summit, Kerry also said NATO must also consider its wider role in events unfolding within Syria. "We need to continue to consider NATO's role as it relates to the Syrian crisis," Kerry said in a statement prepared for the meeting of foreign ministers.

He urged fellow alliance members to consider proving more help to rebels. "I want to urge all of your governments to increase your material and political support to the coalition and the [military council], which share our vision for Syria's future, and to ensure that all assistance is only funneled through them," Kerry said.

Also mentioned at the summit were global flashpoints such as Afghanistan, where NATO is still conducting operations against the Taliban.

The Syria conflict began with a crackdown on largely peaceful protests in March 2011 which escalated into a civil war. United Nations figures put the number of people killed as a result at more than 70,000.

rc/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)