Panetta Downplays Syria Chemical Weapons Fears Says there's no new intelligence pointing to their preparation By Kate Seamons, Newser Staff Posted Dec 11, 2012 9:44 AM CST 6 comments Comments Leon Panetta listens during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) (Newser) – Non-news has never been so satisfying: Leon Panetta this morning announced that there's no new indication that Bashar al-Assad is preparing to use chemical weapons, explaining that related intelligence has "really kind of leveled off. ... We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way." But CBS News reports that Panetta said Washington is continuing to monitor any movements "closely." As for whether our "thin line" warnings are paying off, "I'd like to believe he's got the message," said Panetta. "But you know it's also clear that the opposition continues to make gains [like, potentially, this one] in Syria and our concern is that if they feel like the regime is threatened with collapse that they might resort to these kinds of weapons." Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency today said that the number of Syrian refugees who have registered or are in the process of doing so has passed the half-million mark, reports Reuters. It stands at 509,559.