Iran is stepping up its military and intelligence support for Syrian government troops in their crackdown against opposition strongholds, The Washington Post reported late Saturday.
Citing three unnamed U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports from the region, the newspaper said Tehran had increased supplies of arms and other aid for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad as he is trying to crush resistance in the key city of Homs.
“The aid from Iran is increasing, and is increasingly focused on lethal assistance,” the paper quotes one of the officials as saying.
Reports supported by U.S. intelligence findings indicate that an Iranian operative was recently wounded while working with Syrian security forces inside the country, the paper said.
“They’ve supplied equipment, weapons and technical assistance — even monitoring tools — to help suppress unrest,” The Post quoted the official as saying of Iranians. “Iranian security officials also traveled to Damascus to help deliver this assistance.”
A second senior U.S. official said Iran has recently dispatched members of its main intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, to Damascus to assist in advising and training Syrian counterparts in charge of the crackdown, according to the report.
The head of the Quds Force, Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, also has paid at least one visit to Damascus in recent weeks, the paper noted, and citing U.S. officials.
Meanwhile Syrian forces renewed their bombardment of parts of the shattered city of Homs and for a second day blocked Red Cross aid meant for civilians stranded without food and fuel in the former rebel stronghold, activists and aid workers said.
Army tanks also deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Saturday to confront a growing rebel force there – setting up another possible flashpoint, opposition campaigners said.
The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests against Assad’s rule has spawned an armed insurrection by army deserters and others.
Anti-government activists accused government troops of launching the renewed attack on Homs to punish people in the city, seen as a symbol of the year-long revolt, and arresting hundreds across the country.
“In an act of pure revenge, Assad’s army has been firing mortar rounds and … machine guns since this morning at Jobar,” said the Syrian Network for Human Rights, referring to a district next to Baba Amro, where rebels had faced nearly a month of siege and shelling before fleeing on Thursday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier said he had received “grisly reports” troops were executing and torturing people in Homs after insurgents abandoned their positions.
Syria’s government says it is fighting foreign-backed “terrorists” whom it blames for killing hundreds of soldiers and police across the country.
The United Nations says Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt against Assad’s rule began in March last year.
Concern was mounting for civilians in freezing conditions in Baba Amro, where the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Assad’s forces were holding up its trucks.
A Damascus-based ICRC spokesman said Syrian authorities had given the convoy permission to enter but government forces on the ground had stopped the trucks because of what they said were unsafe conditions, including “mines and booby traps”.
Former Syrian ally Turkey said Assad was committing “war crimes” and condemned Syria for blocking aid to Baba Amro.
“The Syrian regime is committing a crime against humanity every day,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
In unusually tough remarks to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Ban blamed Damascus for the suffering of civilians.
“The brutal fighting has trapped civilians in their homes, without food, heat or electricity or medical care, without any chance of evacuating the wounded or burying the dead. People have been reduced to melting snow for drinking water,” he said.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, said Ban’s comments included “extremely virulent rhetoric which confines itself to slandering a government based on reports, opinions or hearsay.”
The body of French photographer Remi Ochlik, who was killed in Syria with American journalist Marie Colvin, was due to arrive in Paris overnight.