Saturday, February 24, 2018

Iran warns U.S. over Syria as crackdown intensifies

CAIRO —Two Iranian warships docked in a Syrian port Monday as a senior Iranian lawmaker denounced the possibility that the United States might arm the Syrian opposition, adding to the international tensions over the nearly yearlong crackdown by President Bashar Assad's government.

As government forces continued to pound opposition strongholds, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was trying to negotiate a brief pause in the violence to deliver aid to the most devastated areas.

Activist groups reported intensified attacks on the Baba Amr neighborhood in the central city of Homs. They said the government's inability to eradicate the opposition there despite weeks of bombardment could be keeping the military from striking deeper and harder into other parts of the country where armed resistance and rebellion are believed to be growing, including Hama and Idlib to the north.

"The biggest challenge in Homs is Baba Amr," said Wissam Tarif of the activist group Avaaz. "They cannot move military power to Idlib or Hama without finishing Homs first. They cannot leave any pockets of resistance behind them."

He said 16 people had been killed in Homs on Monday. Such reports are impossible to verify.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had begun negotiations with Syrian authorities for a pause in the fighting of as little as a few hours.

"The ICRC is exploring several possibilities for delivering urgently needed humanitarian aid," a spokeswoman, Carla Haddad, told Reuters. "These include a cessation of fighting in the most affected areas to facilitate swift Syrian Arab Red Crescent and ICRC access to the people in need."

The arrival of the Iranian ships in the Syrian port of Tartous came days after the sharpest international rebuke to Assad thus far: the passage of a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly condemning the crackdown and calling for him to step aside.

The escalation of attacks on Homs and other areas began in early February after the same resolution was vetoed in the Security Council by Russia and China. Russia recently sent ships to the same Syrian port, activists said.

Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency called the ships "a serious warning" to the United States and quoted a senior Iranian lawmaker's denunciations of comments made by Sen. John McCain a day earlier in support of arming the Syrian opposition.

"The presence of Iran and Russia's flotillas along the Syrian coasts has a clear message against the United States' possible adventurism," said Hossein Ebrahimi, a vice chairman of the Iranian Parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, Fars reported.

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