Monday 27 February 2012

February 27, 2012 by  
Filed under News, Syrian Revolution

Some of the bodies of the 64 martyrs of Baba Amr treacherously killed yesterday evening.

Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: SUMMARY (27/02/2012): At least 130 martyrs have fallen today, including 96 JUST in Homs. This includes at least 64 civilians fleeing Baba Amru who were reportedly rounded up and slaughtered by Assad’s men with guns and knives, while the women were kidnapped. Tanks pounded Sarmin (Idlib province), while helicopters were used to attack rebel areas north of Aleppo including Azaz and Anadan. In Hama 4 young men were executed in the village of Kafar al-Toun. Meanwhile, the EU is imposing more sanctions, Qatar says the world should arm the FSA. Syria – Monday 27/02/2012 – Google Maps

HAMA (26/02/2012): This video from Arba’een neighbourhood of Hama shows how Assad has given the country over to his thugs. They see a car they want? Then they just stop it, force the driver out and take him away to be beaten and tortured if not worse and then drive it away… Silence in the face of crimes is itself a crime.
 Hama, 26/02/2012

RASTAN (27/02/2012): This is Rastan – a city of 60,000 people in Homs province, located about mid-way between Homs and Hama. After several fierce battles the city is currently under the control of the local FSA although it has been under heavy shelling for weeks. This is how al-Assad is reforming Syria.
 Rastan 27/02/2012

UPDATE (27/02/2012): At least 35 martyrs have fallen so far today. This includes 3 defected soldiers. Homs is still under attack – particularly Baba Amru and the Old City and also the nearby town of Qusayr. Assad’s forces are also attacking the towns of Maret Numan and Sarmin in Idlib, Khattab in Hama, Atareb and Anadan in Aleppo. This video shows a helicopter which they say is being used in the attack on Anadan, a town of 20,000 people 10km NW of Aleppo.
 Anadan, Aleppo province 27/02/2012

 Khalaf Dahowd BBC:Arabic

NOW! Lebanon
[local time]
 21:42 Efforts to evacuate foreign journalists from the rebel-held Baba Amr district of the flashpoint city of Homs failed on Monday, a Western diplomatic source in the Syrian capital said.
 21:11 Syrian forces surrounded people participating in a funeral in a ceremony in Palmyra, Al-Jazeera television quoted activists as saying Monday.
 21:05 Ninety-six people have been killed in Syria’s Homs Monday, Al-Arabiya television quoted the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution as saying Monday.
 20:53 Monday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 128 people, Al-Jazeera television quoted the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution as saying.
 20:23 The United States said Monday that Syria’s referendum for a new constitution is “absolutely cynical.”
 19:43 Syrian helicopters are bombing villages near Aleppo, killing seven people, Al-Jazeera television reported on Monday.
 19:39 Syrian forces shelled the city of Sarmin in Edleb; killing 8 people and wounding others, Al-Jazeera television quoted the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution as saying on Monday.
 19:35 Hundreds of students in Aleppo, Syria’s second city largely spared anti-regime protests and the ensuing crackdown, called on Monday for the city to join the revolt, monitors and activists said.
 19:02 Monday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 46 people, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Local Coordination Committees as saying.
 17:51 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton predicted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime will eventually fall when enough soldiers, business leaders and minorities desert him.
 17:48 The Syrian army on Monday shelled Qusayr in an effort to regain control of the town in the mostly rebel-held central province of Homs, an AFP journalist said.
 17:46 Saudi Arabia on Monday accused some countries of being complacent regarding Syria and blocking a solution to the deadly violence in that country, the government said.
 17:22 Baghdad supports the aspirations of the Syrian people and will not back the Damascus regime “at any cost,” a Saudi newspaper on Monday quoted a high-ranking Iraqi official as saying.
 16:29 Free Syrian Army commander Riad al-Asaad called Monday on Saudi Arabia to arm his group “in order to get rid” of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
 16:15 Almost 90 percent of voters approved Syria’s new constitution brought in after 11 months of anti-regime protests, the Syrian interior minister announced on Monday.
 16:08 Syrian forces are raiding a university dormitory in Aleppo and casualties have been reported, Al-Arabiya television quoted activists as saying.
 15:09 Qatar’s prime minister said Monday he was in favor of delivering arms to the Syrian opposition that is battling President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
 15:07 France wants to see the Syrian regime dragged before an international court of justice, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Monday.
 15:06 Monday’s death toll in Syria has risen to 30 people, Al-Arabiya television quoted the Local Coordination Committees as saying.
 14:35 Poland said Monday its diplomats in Damascus were in talks on the evacuation from Syria of the body of American journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed in the shelling of a flashpoint city last week.
 14:04 Al-Arabiya is broadcasting live footage of an anti-regime protest in Damascus.
 13:57 Thirty Kurdish Syrian soldiers defected into the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan over the past two days and have been granted refugee status, a regional deputy minister told AFP on Monday.
 12:48 Talks and preparations were under way on Monday on evacuating two wounded Western reporters trapped in the besieged Baba Amr district of the Syrian city of Homs, a diplomat in Damascus said.
 12:46 The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday it entered the Syrian city of Hama for the first time in more than a month with humanitarian aid but added that the situation in Homs was worsening “hour by hour”.
 12:42 Syria’s health, information, industry and agriculture ministers are listed on the European countries’ list of sanctions on Syria, Al-Arabiya reported.
 12:32 The head of the United Nations Human Rights Council said Monday she hoped for a “positive response” from Syria to international efforts to get aid to needy civilians.
 12:25 European Union foreign ministers on Monday agreed fresh sanctions on Syria, including a freeze on the assets of the central bank, the EU said Monday.
 11:40 Syrian regime forces killed 11 civilians and wounded 28 others on Monday, after more than 150 people were killed in violence over the weekend, a monitoring group said.
 11:38 The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have bombarded the flashpoint city of Homs for a 24th straight day killing four, aims a repeat of Hama’s 1982 massacre, an activist said on Monday.
 11:01 The Syrian army is shelling several neighborhoods in Homs, activists told Al-Jazeera.
 10:24 French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday that a solution for getting wounded Western reporters out of the besieged Syrian city of Homs was in sight.
 10:08 Beijing on Monday hit back at Hillary Clinton over her criticism of China and Russia’s stance on Syria, calling the US Secretary of State’s comments unacceptable.
 8:18 Canada on Sunday slammed as a farce Syria’s controversial vote on a new constitution.
 8:08 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday warned against the United States arming rebels in Syria because such a move could inadvertently lead to support for Al-Qaeda and Hamas.

Kurdnet: 30 Kurdish Syrian soldiers ‘defect to Iraqi Kurdistan’

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region ‘Iraq’, — Iraqi Kurdistan said on Monday it has granted refugee status to 30 Kurdish Syrian troops who defected to the Kurdish region in the first such instance in the revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The autonomous Kurdistan region in north Iraq pledged it would not hand over the soldiers to Damascus after they crossed over in the past two days.

“We received them for humanitarian reasons, and they are under our protection and we gave them refugee status,” said Anwar Haji Othman, Kurdish deputy minister for the local peshmerga security forces.

“We will not hand them over to the Syrian government because they are Kurdish and it is our right to protect them,” he said.

Othman said they crossed at the common border point between Duhok province in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria, having run “away from the Syrian army.”

According to an official overseeing two camps of Kurdish Syrian refugees in Duhok, 15 families and 130 civilian men,www.ekurd.net all Kurds, have arrived in the autonomous region from Syria in recent days.

“Those Syrian families were distributed between the two camps where 1,800 Kurdish Syrians are living,” said Barzan Burhum Murad.

Iraq has shied away from imposing punitive measures against Syria as Assad’s regime carries out a bloody crackdown on an uprising against his rule in which rights groups say 7,600 people have died.

While there are still regular civilian protests in Syria, the focus has shifted to armed conflict with regime forces.

Assad is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while the majority of Syrians, and of his opponents, are Sunni Muslims.

Iraq, by contrast, is governed by majority Shiite Muslims, but has a substantial Sunni Arab minority.

Baghdad said on Friday it would not invite the Syrian government or opposition to an Arab summit to be held in the Iraqi capital in late March, after an Arab League request that Damascus not attend.

Arab League member states voted in November to suspend Syria’s participation in the Arab League because of the violence.

Copyright ©, respective author or news agency, AFP

REUTERS: Syria approves new constitution amid bloodshed

Syrian artillery pounded rebel-held areas of Homs on Monday as President Bashar al-Assad’s government announced that voters had overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a referendum derided as a sham by his critics at home and abroad.

The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection by army deserters and others.

However, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent entered the besieged Baba Amro district of Homs and evacuated three people on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said. Foreign reporters in the area were not evacuated and the bodies of two journalists killed there had not been recovered, it said.

While foreign powers argued over whether to arm the rebels, the Syrian Interior Ministry said the reformed constitution, which could keep Assad in power until 2028, had received 89.4 percent approval from more than 8 million voters.

Syrian dissidents and Western leaders dismissed as a farce Sunday’s vote, conducted in the midst of the country’s bloodiest turmoil in decades, although Assad says the new constitution will lead to multi-party elections within three months.

Officials put national voter turnout at close to 60 percent, but diplomats who toured polling stations in Damascus saw only a handful of voters at each location. On the same day, at least 59 people were killed in violence around the country.

Qatar joined Saudi Arabia in advocating arming the Syrian rebels, given that Russia and China have twice used their vetoes to block any action by the U.N. Security Council.

“I think we should do whatever is necessary to help them, including giving them weapons to defend themselves,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said in Oslo.

Arab countries should help lead a military force to provide a safe haven for anti-Assad forces inside Syria, he added.

Assad says he is fighting foreign-backed “armed terrorist groups” and his main allies – Russia, China and Iran - fiercely oppose any outside intervention intended to add him to the list of Arab autocrats unseated by popular revolts in the past year.

China called U.S. policy in the region “super-arrogant” and Russia’s Vladimir Putin warned against any action that bypassed the U.N. Security Council.

International “impotence” was described by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe as “hugely frustrating.” But, accusing the Syrian authorities of “massacres” and “odious crimes,” he said Paris would keep on pressing for action at the Security Council and warned Assad that he would be brought to justice.

HOMS BOMBARDED AGAIN

Shells and rockets crashed into Sunni Muslim districts of Homs that have already endured weeks of bombardment as Assad’s forces, led by officers from his minority Alawite sect, try to stamp out an almost year-long revolt against his 11-year rule.

“Intense shelling started on Khalidiya, Ashira, Bayada, Baba Amro and the old city at dawn,” opposition activist Mohammed al-Homsi told Reuters from the city. “The army is firing from the main thoroughfares deep into alleyways and side streets.”

The ICRC has been pursuing talks with the Syrian authorities and opposition forces for days to secure access to besieged neighborhoods such as Baba Amro, where local activists say hundreds of wounded need treatment and thousands of civilians are short of water, food and medical supplies.

ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan said a team from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent team had entered Baba Amro. “They have been able to evacuate three persons, including an aged woman, and a pregnant woman and her husband,” he said.

The trio were believed to be Syrian and did not include four Western journalists trapped in Baba Amro, two of them wounded. A U.S. reporter and a French photographer were killed there on February 22.

“Neither the foreign journalists nor the bodies of the journalists were evacuated for reasons we are not aware of due to the very tense security situation and difficult communications,” Hassan told Reuters in Geneva.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine people had been killed by the attacks on Baba Amro.

Syrian activists reported on Monday the discovery of the bodies of at least 62 people near Homs, but the identity of those killed was disputed.

Some activists said they were families from Baba Amro who were kidnapped as they tried to flee the neighborhood. But others said they were minority Alawite Muslims, the same sect of Islam to which embattled Assad belongs.

Crowds gathered in the sensitive Damascus district of Kfar Souseh, home to several security agency headquarters, to mourn three young men killed in a protest on Sunday, a witness said.

“Only Allah, Syria and freedom” they chanted, instead of the officially sanctioned slogan “Only Allah, Syria and Bashar.”

Russia said its diplomats in Syria were trying to arrange a humanitarian truce in Homs and suggested that Western countries should pressure rebel forces there to cooperate.

WORLD DISMAY

International consternation has grown over the turmoil in Syria, but there is little appetite in the West for military action akin to the U.N.-backed NATO campaign in Libya.

Qatar’s prime minister suggested this was indeed a model to follow, but said Arab and Islamic nations should take the lead.

“It seems the government and president of Syria have taken a decision to continue the killing, hoping that they could stop the uprising,” Sheikh Hamad said. “We will stay with the people. We will help them and do what is needed to be done.”

Qatar, a small but wealthy Gulf state, helped Libyan rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi last year with arms and special forces.

Criticizing the Russian and Chinese veto, Sheikh Hamad said: “Since we failed in the Security Council … we have to try to do something to send enough military help to stop the killing.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, however, that Western powers hoped diplomacy could change minds: “We are putting pressure on the Russians first and the Chinese afterwards so that they lift their veto.”

Russian Prime Minister Putin reiterated Moscow’s opposition to any military intervention in Syria.

“I very much hope the United States and other countries … do not try to set a military scenario in motion in Syria without sanction from the U.N. Security Council,” he said Putin.

The European Union agreed more sanctions, targeting Syria’s central bank and several cabinet ministers, curbing gold trading with state entities and banning cargo flights from the country.

Moscow, however, advocates dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition to end the bloodshed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the referendum “an important step on the path of reforms” and criticized as “one-sided” Friday’s “Friends of Syria” gathering in Tunis at which Western and Arab powers met Syrian opposition leaders.

NEW CONSTITUTION

The new constitution drops a clause making Assad’s Baath party the leader of state and society, allows political pluralism and limits a president to two seven-year terms.

But this restriction is not retrospective, implying that Assad, 46 and already in power since 2000, could serve two further terms after his current one expires in 2014.

The opposition dismisses the reforms on offer, saying that Assad, and his father who ruled for 30 years before him, have long paid only lip service to existing legal obligations.

French Foreign Minister Juppe told France’s iTele television that the referendum was a “sinister masquerade.”

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now the new U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria, was holding separate talks in Geneva with Juppe and Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting.

Iran is Assad’s closest ally. The main Shi’ite Muslim power, it has religious ties to Assad’s Alawites and is confronting the Sunnis who dominate the Arab League – both the Sunni Islamists who have done well out of the past year’s democratic changes and autocratic, Western-backed leaders in the Gulf and elsewhere.

Juppe, addressing the U.N. human rights body, said Assad should be held to account by the International Criminal Court:

“The day will come when the Syrian civilian and military authorities, first among them President Assad himself, must respond before justice for their acts,” Juppe said in Geneva.

“In the face of such crimes, there can be no impunity.”

(Additional reporting by Dominic EvansMariam Karouny in Beirut, Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow,Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Chris Buckley in Beijing, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Walter Gibbs in Oslo, Peter Griffiths in London and Leigh Thomas in Paris; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing byAlastair Macdonald and David Stamp)

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BBC: Syria: Red Crescent bid to evacuate Homs journalists fails

Fresh attempts to bring two wounded Western journalists to safety from the Syrian city of Homs have failed, the Red Cross says.

Vehicles from the Syrian Red Crescent reached the besieged suburb of Baba Amr, but left without them.

Frenchwoman Edith Bouvier apparently would not board the vehicles and other evacuees stayed behind in solidarity.

Earlier, Syrian forces launched fresh attacks on a number of towns, reports say, with dozens more people killed.

The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an activists’ group which organises and documents protests, said a total of 125 people had died across Syria, many of them in a single incident at a checkpoint in Homs – although there has been no independent verification of this.

The LCC also said 15 people died in the Idlib area, nine in the Aleppo area, and several in the suburbs of Damascus.

Several towns in Idlib came under army assault for the first time, reports said.

BBC correspondent Ian Pannell, who is in northern Syria, says troops fired artillery, mortars and anti-aircraft guns at Binnish and other towns on Monday.

Binnish has been under the control of the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Liberation Army for the past week.

Our correspondent says the bombardment, which began in the early morning, appeared to be entirely random, hitting civilian areas rather than targeting rebel positions.

The towns of Sarmin, Maarat al-Numan and Binnish were also hit, reports said, along with the town of Qusayr, nine miles (15km) outside Homs.

As the crackdown intensified, the European Union imposed further sanctions on Syria.

They include:

  • a freeze on the European-held assets of the Syrian central bank
  • travel bans on seven close associates of President Bashar al-Assad
  • a ban on cargo flights from Syria into the EU
  • restrictions on the trade in gold and precious metals

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the fresh sanctions.

“We will continue working closely with our EU partners to support the Arab League and its plan to end the violence in Syria and bring about a Syrian-led transition to a peaceful and more open political system,” he said.

Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, said the international community should do “whatever necessary” to help the Syrian opposition, “including giving them weapons to defend themselves”.

“I think they’re right to defend themselves with weapons and I think we should help these people by all means,” he added.

Broken leg

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has continued efforts to move injured people, including the two Western journalists, out of Baba Amr.

Reports on Monday evening said the Syrian Red Crescent had managed to regain access to the area but officials later confirmed they had left without the journalists. Three Syrians were moved to safety.

Ms Bouvier, who has a badly broken leg, and British photographer Paul Conroy were both wounded in an attack on Wednesday which claimed the lives of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

It had been hoped that the bodies of the two dead journalists would be brought out during the same mission, but this also failed.

State television has meanwhile announced the results of a referendum on a new constitution, which was dismissed by opposition activists and the West as a sham.

The poll showed around 89% support for the proposal, the report said, on a turnout of just over 57%.

At the scene Ian Pannell, BBC News, northern Syria

The bombardment has started in Binnish, which for the past week has been under the control of the opposition. The Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Liberation Army are based in this town. We know that a government offensive has been taking place in the nearby city of Idlib. The townspeople have become increasingly concerned that the troops would then turn their attention to Binnish. That is what has happened this morning.

We were woken to the sound of artillery bombardment. There is gunfire in the distance. We believe they are using anti-aircraft weapons against the town, and also setting up mortar positions. This is a town of about 40,000 people and although there are militiamen belonging to the Free Syrian Army and other groups, this has not been a military situation. From what we can tell, the bombardment is entirely random and is not targeting specific individuals. This seems to be part of a wider government offensive that is taking place in the north of the country, to regain control of opposition areas.

al-Arabiya: Homs under fire as Syria awaits referendum result; rift develops in opposition group

Syrian artillery pummelled rebel-held areas of Homs on Monday before an expected government announcement that a vote – decried as a sham by the opposition and the West – has approved a new constitution proposed by President Bashar al-Assad.

As many as 15 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian security forces on Monday, mostly in Homs, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.

At least 63 Syrian civilians and soldiers were killed in the country’s bitter political violence on Sunday, the day of the vote on a new constitution that could keep Assad in power until 2028. The result is viewed as a foregone conclusion.

“Intense shelling started on Khalidiya, Ashira, Bayada, Baba Amro and the old city at dawn,” activist Mohammad al-Homsi told Reuters from Homs.

“The army is firing from the main thoroughfares deep into alleyways and side streets,” he added.

Splinter organization

Prominent members of the main SNC, meanwhile, formed a splinter organization on Sunday, exposing the most serious rift among Assad’s opponents since the popular uprising against his repressive rule erupted in March.

At least 20 secular and Islamist members of the 270-strong council, which was set up in Istanbul last year, announced the formation of the Syrian Patriotic Group.

The new group is headed by Haitham al-Maleh, a lawyer and former judge who has resisted dynastic family rule by Assad and his father, the late President Hafez al-Assad, since its inception in 1970.

He is joined by Kamal al-Labwani, an opposition leader who was jailed for six years and released in December; human rights lawyer Catherine al-Talli; Fawaz al-Tello, an opposition operative with links to Free Syrian Army rebels and Walid al-Bunni, who was among the most outspoken figures on the council responsible for foreign policy.

Getting out of paralysis mode

In a special interview with Al Arabiya, Labwani explained that the main aim of the group is to get out of the “paralysis” mode. “The 20 members would remain as part of the SNC, but they will have a different mechanism of work,” he said.

“Syria has experienced long and difficult months since the Syrian National Council was formed without it achieving satisfactory results or being able to activate its executive offices or adopt the demands of the rebels inside Syria,” a statement by the Syrian Patriotic Group said.

“The previous mode of operation has been useless. We decided to form a patriotic action group to back the national effort to bring down the regime with all available resistance means including supporting the Free Syrian Army,” the statement, which was sent to Reuters, said.

The statement was issued in Tunis, where members of the SNC, including those who have effectively split, attended the 50-nation “Friends of the Syrian People” conference last week to try to push Assad to end the military crackdown.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued a strong warning to the West against military intervention in Syria, its longtime ally, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear there was no enthusiasm in Washington for war, according to Reuters.

The International Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent were still negotiating with Syrian authorities and the opposition in an effort to get aid into strife-torn areas of the embattled city of Homs, where conditions were said to be grim.

Assad’s reforms would drop an article making his Baath party the leader of state and society, allow political pluralism and enact a presidential limit of two seven-year terms. A multi-party parliamentary election would be held in three months.

But the limit will not be enforced retrospectively, meaning that Assad, already in power for 11 years, could serve another two terms after his current one expires in 2014.

Dozens of people lined up to vote in two polling stations visited by a Reuters journalist in Damascus. “I’ve come to vote for President Bashar, God protect him and give him victory over his enemies,” said Samah Turkmani, in his 50s.

Another voter, Majed Elias, said: “This is a national duty, whether I agree or not, I have to come and vote.”

Referendum

In Hama, a city with a bloody record of resistance to Baathist rule, one activist said nobody was taking part in the referendum. “We will not vote on a constitution drafted by our killer,” he said by satellite telephone, asking not to be named.

This is Syria’s third referendum since Assad inherited power from his late father. The first installed him as president in 2000 with an official 97.29 percent ‘Yes’ vote. The second renewed his term seven years later with 97.62 percent in favor.

Syria’s revolt began 11 months ago with a wave of mostly peaceful demonstrations against Assad’s rule. It has increasingly become an armed conflict between security forces and lightly armed rebels.

“We have been trapped in our houses for 23 days. We cannot go out, except into some alleys. Markets, schools and government buildings are closed, and there is very little movement on the streets because of snipers,” said an activist in Homs.

He said Baba Amro, had had no food or water for three days. “Homs in general has no electricity for 18 hours a day.” Tight curbs on independent reporting in Syria make witness reports hard to verify.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Syrian authorities had not responded to a request for a ceasefire to allow the wounded to be evacuated and conditions were worsening by the hour.

The Interior Ministry acknowledged obliquely that security conditions had disrupted voting, saying: “The referendum on a new constitution is taking place in a normal way in most provinces so far, with a large turnout, except in some areas.”

The Syrian government, backed by Russia, China and Iran, and undeterred by Western and Arab pressure to halt its assaults, says it is fighting foreign-backed “armed terrorist groups.”

Syria’s Prime Minister Adel Safar, asked about the opposition call for a boycott, said it showed a lack of interest in dialogue. “There are some groups that have a Western and foreign agenda and do not want reforms in Syria and want to divert Syria’s steadfastness,” he told reporters in Damascus.

The outside world has been powerless to restrain Assad’s drive to crush the revolt, which has the potential to slide into a sectarian conflict between Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and the president’s minority Alawite sect.

Unwilling to intervene militarily and unable to get the U.N. Security Council to act in the teeth of Russian and Chinese opposition, Western powers have imposed their own sanctions on Syria and backed an Arab League call for Assad to step down.

While the West dismisses talk of a Libya-style NATO role to support Assad’s opponents, Gulf Arab states have pushed for a more forceful stance. Saudi Arabia said on Friday it would back the idea of arming rebels – a proposal likely to alarm Moscow.

“I very much hope the United States and other countries … do not try to set a military scenario in motion in Syria without sanction from the U.N. Security Council,” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said.

Arming rebels

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday warned against the United States arming rebels in Syria because such a move could inadvertently lead to support for al-Qaeda and Hamas, according to AFP.

Senior leaders of both groups — which Washington classify as terrorist organizations — have expressed their support for the loose-knit collection of Syrian rebels who have taken up arms against the regime of embattled Assad.

U.S. officials, too, have expressed backing for those intent on toppling Assad, and senior lawmakers including Senator John McCain have said it’s time to consider arming the rebel groups.

Clinton poured cold water on such action.

“We really don’t know who it is that would be armed,” the top U.S. diplomat told CBS News during a visit to Morocco, as she noted that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has expressed support for the Syrian rebels.

“Are we supporting al-Qaeda in Syria?” she said. “Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?”

Clinton said she remains “incredibly sympathetic to the calls that somebody do something” about the crackdown that rights groups say has left more than 7,600 people dead.

“Sometimes, overturning brutal regimes takes time and costs lives. I wish it weren’t so,” she said.

“This is not Libya, where you had a base of operations in Benghazi, where you had people who were representing the entire opposition” to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, whose regime fell last year.

Clinton said US officials have met some leaders of the SNC, but they are not inside Syria proper.

She said she expected some groups would find ways to smuggle in automatic weapons, but delivering them effectively to rebel fronts would be difficult.

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