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John Baird clarifies Canada's position against military campaign in Syria

This image from a citizen-journalist provided by Aleppo Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other reporting, shows planes on the ground at the Kweiras military air base in Aleppo province, Syria, Sunday, May. 5, 2013. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels moved deep inside Mannagh air base, near the border with Turkey, while under fire from government warplanes.

Associated Press

After comments that left some with the impression that Canada was open to discussing a military campaign against the Syrian regime, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird clarified the government's position.

"Canada is not contemplating a military mission in Syria," Mr. Baird's press secretary, Rick Roth, said a few hours after CTV's Question Period aired an interview with the minister.

Mr. Baird was asked on the program: "Does Canada support discussions that are under way right now among our allies about a wider air campaign against Syrian targets?"

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He responded by saying: "Listen, I mean obviously we're talking with our allies."

He went on to discuss whether chemical weapons had been used in Syria. He said evidence from the United States and Israel suggested chemical weapons have been used in Syria. While he said Canada "can't validate specifically" who has used them, "we strongly suspect it's the regime.

"Obviously the use of mass chemical weapons against civilian populations causes deep concern," Mr. Baird said in the interview.

Mr. Baird left no ambiguity, however, about the question of arming Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the government. He said the Canadian government, unlike many of its allies, remains opposed to arming the Syrian opposition over fears that the weapons will fall into the hands of "radical jihadists making [their] way into Syria and infesting part of the opposition. This causes us great concern.

"It's no longer just a few hundred al-Qaeda affiliated people, it's a substantial number of radical extremists that have come from all over the world," Mr. Baird said.

The confusion over military action in Syria arose as Israel this weekend launched air strikes against targets in Syria. Israel says the strikes targeted sophisticated weapons destined for the militant group Hezbollah , its Syrian-backed enemy in Lebanon.

Syria said the Israeli attacks aim "to give direct military support to terrorist groups," which is how it refers to the Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the government. Syria's Information Minister Omran Zoabi said the attacks "open the door to all possibilities," but did not hint at a concrete course of action.

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About the Author

Sean Silcoff joined The Globe and Mail in January, 2012, following an 18-year-career in journalism and communications. He previously worked as a columnist and Montreal correspondent for the National Post and as a staff writer at Canadian Business Magazine, where he was project co-ordinator of the magazine's inaugural Rich 100 list. More


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