US says Iran training Syrian militia (BBC) British Broadcasting Company) 15 August 2012 Last updated at 04:13 GMT)
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Iran is helping to build and train a militia in Syria to prop up
embattled President Bashar al-Assad, America´s top military officer
Gen Martin Dempsey said the militia was intended to take the pressure
off battle-weary Syrian regime forces.
Iran has described Syria as part of a vital regional alliance that
Tehran will not allow to be broken.
Meanwhile, a summit of Islamic countries is due to suspend Syrian
membership, despite Iranian objections.
The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation is expected to
endorse the decision of its foreign ministers at the summit in Mecca,
Saudi state TV showed King Abdullah welcoming leaders with Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at his side. They were shown talking
and laughing together.
´Bolstering doomed regime´
Gen Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Syrian
regime forces would be "taxed" after fighting for almost 18 months.
"They are having re-supply problems, they are having morale problems,
they are having the kind of wear-and-tear that would come of being in
a fight for as long as they have," he said.
He said Iran was training a militia made up of Syrian Shia Muslim
Syria´s mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are being backed by Sunni-ruled
Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as Turkey.
Shia Iran supports President Assad, a member of the Alawite minority
sect, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Speaking at the same news conference, US Defence Secretary Leon
Panetta said it had become obvious that Iran was providing assistance
and training for the Syrian regime.
"We do not think that Iran ought to be playing that role at this
moment in time," he said.
"It is adding to the killing that´s going on in Syria, and it tries
to bolster a regime that we think ultimately is going to come down."
Gen Dempsey said Washington had held talks with Syria´s neighbours
Jordan and Turkey about the possible need for a safe zone, amid an
influx of refugees fleeing the fighting.
"With a safe haven would probably come some form of no-fly zone, but
we are not planning anything unilaterally," he said.
Gen Dempsey also said it appeared that rebels had recently shot down
a Syrian warplane, despite Damascus insisting that it had suffered a
However, he said there was no indication that the rebels were armed
with heavy weapons or surface-to-air missiles.
He said the jet could have been brought down with small-arms fire.
In other developments
-President Assad´s special envoy, Bouthaina Shaaban, is in Beijing
for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi
Communist Party mouthpiece People´s Daily accuses some Western
countries of seeking regime change in Syria
-UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is due to visit Lebanon during a
regional tour to improve aid for Syrian refugees
-Ex-Syrian PM Riad Hijab, who defected to Jordan last week, said the
Syrian government was collapsing "morally, financially and militarily"
-Violence has spread in recent weeks to Syria´s two biggest cities,
Damascus and Aleppo.
The army is battling to regain control of Aleppo after retaking parts
of Damascus seized by insurgents last month.
On Tuesday, activists in Aleppo said the army had shelled several
rebel-held areas including Saif al-Dawla and Salah al-Din.
State news agency Sana reported that a number of "terrorists" had
been killed or wounded in several areas of the city.
In Damascus, people were reportedly fleeing the central district of
Qabun, fearing a military offensive.
The rebels have themselves have come in for increasing criticism
because of their apparent mistreatment of prisoners in and around
A day after videos emerged of one man having his throat cut and the
bodies of others being thrown off a roof, the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
spoke out against what it termed "executions".
Iran-Syria strategic alliance
-After Iran´s 1979 revolution, Damascus and Tehran opposed Saddam
-Both aim to check Israeli advances in Lebanon and to prevent US
influence in Middle East
-They support the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah and Palestinian
militant group Hamas
-In August 2012, Iran declared Syria an essential part of an "axis of
resistance" (© BBC MMXII 08/15/12)
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