Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have used Scud missiles against rebel fighters, according to US and NATO officials.
According to a report in the New York Times, an Obama administration official said on Wednesday that over the last week Assad's forces have, for the first time, fired at least six Soviet-designed Scud missiles to attack rebels. Another official reportedly said the missiles had been launched from the Damascus area at targets in northern Syria.
An unnamed US official told AFP news agency on Wednesday: "Scuds landed within Syria."
The official warned that the use of Scud missiles marks a serious escalation in the 21-month-long conflict.
In Brussels, a NATO official also reportedly said on Wednesday that a number of short-range ballistic missiles had been launched inside Syria this week: "Allied intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets have detected the launch of a number of unguided, short-range ballistic missiles … Trajectory and distance travelled indicate they were Scud-type missiles," the official said.
Analysts have said reports of Scud missiles are significant because of the potential to put chemical and biological warheads inside them, inflicting huge amounts of damage at long distances.
On Wednesday, New-York based Human Rights Watch said air-delivered incendiary weapons, containing highly flammable materials including napalm, thermite, or white phosphorus, designed to inflict severe burns, have been used in at least four locations across Syria since mid-November.
Last week, US President Barak Obama warned the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons against its own people would cross "a red line" for the United States that would prompt action.
White House spokesman, Jay Carney, told reporters on Wednesday he could not confirm reports of Scud missiles being used but said if they are true, it would be "a stunning, disproportionate military escalation".