MUNICH -- Syria's chemical weapons are safe in the regime's hands, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday, as he reiterated Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's nearly two-year-old battle against opposition forces.
"The greatest danger is the possibility that the chemical weapons will fall into the rebels' hands," Lavrov said while attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
While the weapons remained under government control, "we are confident that there is no cause for serious concern," he said.
Lavrov also cautioned that "we should avoid a forceful intervention, especially without a mandate from the UN Security Council" and also spoke out against "arbitrary sanctions" against Damascus.
On the sidelines of the international conference, Lavrov also met with US Vice President Joe Biden, who on Saturday described al-Assad as a "tyrant" and that he must go.
Western powers have previously warned al-Assad that there would be an immediate reaction to any use of chemical weapons against the opposition, which have been fighting to oust the Syrian leader since March 2011.
The UN estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Inside Syria, rebels claimed 40 people were killed across the country on Saturday, while activists said heavy clashes raged near a major military base in Mezze - a key supply link for the regime forces in the capital.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa rebels and troops were also clashing near the Damascus suburb of Daraya.
Daraya is now under rebel control, but Syrian forces have reportedly brought in tanks in an effort to reclaim it.
News from Syria cannot be verified because most journalists are still banned from entering restive areas across the country.
Distributed by MCT Information Services