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Official says Syria to defend itself against international attack

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DAMASCUS, Syria — A senior Syrian official said Monday that his country will defend itself against any international attack and will not be an easy target as the U.S. and other countries heat up rhetoric in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack last week on a rebel-held neighborhood of the Syrian capital.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad said airstrikes or other action against Syria would also trigger "chaos" and threaten worldwide peace and security.

He spoke Monday as support for an international response was mounting if it is confirmed that President Bashar Assad's troops were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack, which activists say killed hundreds.

The United States has said that there is little doubt that Assad's regime was responsible for the assault, and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday the Obama administration is "considering all different options."

Speaking with reporters after meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, Hagel said, "If there is any action taken it will be in concert with the international community and within the framework of a legal justification."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said that in the event the chemical attack was confirmed, "The only option that I can't imagine would be to do nothing."

The Syrian foreign minister, however, warned Syria was ready to respond.

"There will be no international military intervention," Mikdad said in the interview at his office. "If individual countries want to pursue aggressive and adventurous policies, the natural answer ... would be that Syria, which has been fighting against terrorism for almost three years, will also defend itself against any international attack."

"They will bear the responsibility for such an attack, which will result in killing thousands of innocent people, as happened in Libya, and committing criminal actions against a sovereign country," Mikdad added. "Syria will not be an easy target."

Mikdad did not elaborate on how Syria might defend itself, but he said such an attack would trigger "chaos in the entire world."

He said the U.N. should be given a chance to investigate before any judgment is made, "not strike and then start judging."

"The team is going to do its work. It is not the business of the United States to judge because the final judgment will be that of the team. The team knows what to do," he said.

Under the negotiated mandate, however, the team can only investigate whether chemical weapons were used, not place blame.

Mikdad spoke shortly after the U.N. said unidentified snipers opened fire at one of the U.N. vehicles carrying a team investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons. The Syrian government accused the rebels of firing at the team, while activists and the main Syrian opposition group in exile said a pro-government militia was behind the attack.

The foreign minister also said the position of the French government is "shameful and full of lies and irresponsible" and said the same applies to the position of the U.K. and other European countries "which have become promoters of terrorism."

Mikdad said he is "100 percent confident" that neither the Syrian army nor anyone who is part of the Syrian government used chemical weapons, adding the Syrian regime "will never use them against its own people, if it has them."

"If such a thing has happened, then it is the armed groups," he said.