MOSCOW (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said his troops did not use chemical weapons in an attack on a rebel-held suburb in a Damascus last week where hundreds of people died.
The United States have said that there is little doubt that Assad's regime was responsible for the attack on Aug. 21 in the capital's eastern suburbs. Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in an artillery barrage by regime forces Wednesday that included the use of toxic gas.
Assad told Russia's Izvestia daily that the accusations that his troops were responsible were "politically motivated."
"This is nonsense," Assad was quoted as saying in an interview published Monday. "First they level the accusations, and only then they start collecting evidence."
Assad said that attacking such an area with chemical weapons would not make sense for the government as there was no clear front line between regime and rebel forces.
"How can the government use chemical weapons, or any other weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its troops are situated?" he said. "This is not logical. That's why these accusations are politically motivated, and a recent string of victories of the government forces is the reason for it."
Syria said Sunday that a U.N. team could investigate the site but a senior White House official dismissed the deal as "too late to be credible."
With France, Britain, Israel and some U.S. congressmen urging swift military action against Assad's regime if the use of chemical agents is confirmed, the U.N. team's conclusions could have a dramatic impact on the trajectory of the country's civil war.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said no decision had been made on a military intervention but that any response would be "proportionate."
"It will be negotiated in coming days," Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Monday. He said that the lack of a U.N. blessing was problematic, but that all options remain on the table.
"The only option that I can't imagine would be to do nothing," Fabius said.
Russia, who has been a staunch ally of Syria, said last week that the accusations against Assad could be a bid to get the Security Council to stand by the opposition, and to undermine efforts to resolve the conflict by convening a peace conference in Geneva.
GENEVA (AP) — The number of registered child refugees fleeing Syria's violence has topped the 1 million mark in another grim milestone of the deepening conflict, two U.N. agencies said Friday.
Roughly half of all the nearly 2 million registered refugees from Syria are children, and some 740,000 of those are under the age of 11, according to the U.N. refugee and children's agencies.
"This one millionth child refugee is not just another number," said Anthony Lake, the head of UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency. "This is a real child ripped from home, maybe even from a family, facing horrors we can only begin to comprehend."
The children's ordeals are not over once they escape Syria, said Antonio Guterres, the head of the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, known as UNHCR.
"Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatized, depressed and in need of a reason for hope," he said.
His agency said it tries to ensure that babies born in exile are provided with birth certificates, preventing them from becoming stateless, and that all refugee families and children live in some form of safe shelter.
But the threats to refugee children are rising, the agencies say, including child labor, early marriage and the potential for sexual exploitation and trafficking. More than 3,500 children in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have crossed Syria's borders unaccompanied or separated from their families, according to the U.N. figures.
The agencies say some 7,000 children are among the more than 100,000 killed in the unrest in Syria, which began in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war.
Most of the refugees fleeing Syria have arrived in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. However, U.N. officials say that increasingly Syrians are fleeing to North Africa and Europe.
The two U.N. agencies estimate that more than 2 million children also have been displaced within Syria.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday the real number of Syrian refugees is "well over 2 million" if unregistered refugees are counted.
"The situation in Syria continues to worsen. The humanitarian suffering is alarming. Sectarian tensions have been ignited. Regional instability is spreading," Ban said in a speech in Seoul, South Korea.
"It is heartbreaking to see all these young people, children and women and refugees, who do not have any means, any hope for their country," he said. "They do not know when they will be able to return to their country."
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani court Tuesday indicted former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf on murder charges in connection with the 2007 assassination of iconic Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, deepening the fall of a once-powerful figure who returned to the country this year in an effort to take part in elections.
The decision by a court in Rawalpindi marks the first time Musharraf, or any former army chief in Pakistan, has been charged with a crime.
Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup and stepped down from office in disgrace nearly a decade later, now faces a litany of legal problems that have in many ways broken taboos on the inviolability of the once-sacrosanct military in Pakistani society.
He has been charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and facilitation for murder, said prosecutor Chaudry Muhammed Azhar.
The former army commando appeared in person during the brief morning hearing, and pleaded not guilty, said Afsha Adil, a member of Musharraf's legal team.
Bhutto was killed in 2007 during a gun and bomb attack at a rally in the city of Rawalpindi, the sister city to the capital of Islamabad. Prosecutors have said Musharraf, who was president at the time, failed to properly protect her.
The judge set August 27 as the next court date to present evidence.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan in March after nearly four years outside the country and vowed to take part in the country's May elections. But he has little popular support in Pakistan and ever since his return has faced a litany of legal problems related to his rule.
He has been confined to his house on the outskirts Islamabad as part of his legal problems, and was brought to court Tuesday amid tight security.
In addition to the Bhutto case, Musharraf is involved in a case related to the 2007 detention of judges and the death of a Baluch nationalist leader.
He's also faced threats from the Pakistani Taliban who tried to assassinate him twice while he was in office and vowed to try again if he returned.
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's official news agency reports that the state prosecutor has ordered the detention of the ousted president over alleged contacts with Hamas to help in his escape from prison in 2011.
The MENA news agency said Mohammed Morsi has been detained for 15 days for investigation into the charges.
Egypt's military has been holding Morsi in an undisclosed location since deposing him on July 3.
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The Yemen-based branch of al-Qaida says a U.S. drone strike has killed a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who rose to become the group's No. 2 figure.
The announcement, posted on militant websites, gave no date for the death of Saudi-born Saeed al-Shihri.
In January, Yemen's official SABA news agency had reported that al-Shihri died of wounds from a drone strike three months earlier.
The monitoring group SITE said Wednesday that al-Shihri was eulogized in the video by a senior official in the terrorist group, known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al-Shihri, also known as Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, fought in Afghanistan and spent six years in Guantanamo. He was returned to Saudi Arabia in late 2007 and later fled to Yemen to join the al-Qaida branch there.
CAIRO (AP) - A senior Health Ministry official says clashes overnight between police and supporters of Egypt's ousted president have left at least seven people dead.
Khaled el-Khateib also says 261 people were injured in the violence that broke out late Monday and carried on into the early morning hours of Tuesday in four different locations in the capital, Cairo.
Thousands of supporters of Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military, were protesting to press their demands that Morsi be reinstated as president.
Egypt's military deposed Morsi on July 3 after days of mass street protests calling for him to step down.
The ousted president's supporters say he was ousted by a military coup that overturned democratic rule.
ISTANBUL (AP) — Riot police with water cannons and tear gas are hitting protesters who remain defiant after authorities evicted activists from an Istanbul park.
Sunday's clampdown indicated authorities were taking a hardline against attempts to rekindle the protests.
In Istanbul, police battled protesters in side streets off Gezi Park and beyond.
Meanwhile, what was left of the two-week sit-in was bulldozed and police sealed off the area. Hundreds of white-helmeted riot police swept through the park and adjacent Taksim Square yesterday to clear out the protesters.
In Ankara, the capital, police dispersed hundreds who tried to hold a memorial service for an activist who died of injuries sustained in a nearby police crackdown nearby on June 1.
ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan's newly-elected prime minister is calling for an end to American drone strikes in tribal areas.
Nawaz Sharif's call came in his first speech in parliament, minutes after lawmakers elected him the country's premier.
But he gave little details on how he might bring about an end to the strikes, which many in Pakistan have called an affront to the country's sovereignty.
The U.S. considers the strikes vital to battling militants such as al-Qaida, who use the tribal areas of Pakistan as a safe haven.
Sharif's comments are in line with previous statements he has made calling for an end to the controversial strikes.
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian State TV is reporting that President Bashar Assad's army is now in full control of the embattled border town of Qusair, where fighting raged with rebels for nearly three weeks.
The state TV said on Wednesday that regime troops "restored security and peace" after successfully dismantling the "terrorist networks" operating in the town over the last few days.
Lebanon's Al-Mayadeen TV, which has reporters embedded with Syrian troops, was reporting live from the town, showing images of damaged buildings. The reporter said there was no sign of fighting.
Government troops, backed by Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters, began a wide offensive on the strategic town, which lies near the Lebanese border, on May 19.
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian rebels shot down a military helicopter in the country's east, killing eight government troops on board a day after opposition forces entered a sprawling military air base in the north, activists said Monday.
In the past months, rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad have frequently targeted military aircraft and air bases in an attempt to deprive his regime of a key weapon used to target opposition strongholds and reverse rebel gains in the 2 year old conflict.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Monday posted a video online showing several armed men standing in front of the wreckage. One of the fighters in the footage says it's a helicopter that the rebels shot down late Sunday in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, along Syria's border with Iraq.
As the man speaks, the camera shifts to a pickup truck piled with bodies. The fighter is then heard saying that all of Assad's troops who were aboard the helicopter were killed in the downing. He says Islamic fighters of the Abu Bakr Sadiqq brigade brought down the helicopter as it was taking off from a nearby air base in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said eight troops were killed.
On Sunday, rebels occupied parts of a military air base in northern Syria after days of fighting with government troops who were defending the sprawling facility near the border with Turkey for months, the Observatory said.
Assad's warplanes were pounding rebel positions inside the Mannagh air base Monday as clashes between rebels and government forces raged on, the Observatory said, adding there was an unknown number of casualties on both sides.
The day before, rebels moved deep into the air base despite fire from government warplanes, capturing a tank unit inside the base and killing the base's commander, Brig. Gen. Ali Salim Mahmoud, according to another activists group, the Aleppo Media Center.
The fighting came hours after Israeli warplanes struck areas in and around the Syrian capital, setting off a series of explosions as they targeted a shipment of highly accurate, Iranian-made guided missiles believed to be bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, officials and activists said.
The attack, the second in three days and the third this year, signaled a sharp escalation of Israel's involvement in Syria's civil war. Syrian state media reported that Israeli missiles on Sunday struck a military and scientific research center near Damascus and caused casualties.
The Syrian conflict started with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime in March 2011, but eventually turned into a civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people according to the United Nations.
More than one million Syrians have fled their homes during the fighting and sought shelter in the neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Millions of others have been displaced inside Syria.