UPDATE 12:24 p.m. (EST): The New York Times reports that forces loyal to Syria's embattled leader Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel forces in northern Syria. The attack, according to a senior Obama administration official:
Shows, he said, the increasing desperation of Mr. Assad, since Scuds are primarily defensive weapons, being used by the government offensively against a counterinsurgency.
“Using Scuds to target tanks or military bases is one thing,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Using them to target rebels hiding in playgrounds at schools is something else.”
On Tuesday anti-government activists in Damascus said "Regime forces are firing land missiles that are capable of carrying chemical warheads." This is significant because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Syria's use of chemical weapons in a civil war would violate a "red line."
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More than 100 countries on Wednesday formally recognized the Syrian opposition coalition. "Friends of Syria," a group composed of representatives from Western and Arab nations that support the 20-month uprising against Bashar al-Assad, convened in Morocco to formalize international recognition of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the sole legitimate political representative of the Syrian people.
On Tuesday, the U.S. delivered a further blow to the Assad regime's frail legitimacy. In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said that the U.S. will formally recognize the coalition as the de facto leadership of rebel-controlled areas in Syria.
"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population, that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama said. Britain, France, Turkey and others have already recognized the legitimacy of the rebel coalition.
Reuters obtained a draft declaration from the "Friends of Syria," which noted, "Participants acknowledge the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and the umbrella organization under which the Syrian opposition are gathering ... Bashar al-Assad has lost legitimacy and should stand aside to allow a sustainable political transition."
The text also reiterated that were Assad to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people, this would be a red line crossed for the international community.
Obama did not say during his interview whether the U.S. would now be prepared to arm the rebels or offer other military support. Following reports last week that U.S.-authorized weapons sent to rebels in Libya ended up in the hands of Islamist militants, the Obama administration is treading carefully around the issue of arming or militarily assisting Syrian rebels.
Washington is also taking pains to distinguish between which rebel groups it recognizes as legitimate and which it does not. The State Department has declared one resistance group a terrorist organization. "The State Department said the al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant, which is taking part in the fight on the ground against president Bashar al-Assad, is an alias for al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI)," reported the Guardian.
Meanwhile, to cement its legitimacy, the Western-backed coalition will announce Wednesday plans to move hundreds of millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid to Syria's most beleaguered regions. Two million people are believed to have been displaced inside Syria because of the civil war.