Iran says Quds force in Syria, fighting rages in Damascus

MILITARY PRESENCE – BUT NOT FOREIGN INTERVENTION” – September 16, 2012  –  The Daily Star Lebanon  – DAMASCUS: Syrian troops Sunday fought rebel fighters in the country’s two main cities Damascus and Aleppo, as Iran acknowledged for the first time it has elite forces present in Syria and Lebanon as “counselors.”

A child and a media activist meanwhile killed overnight in Aleppo, where the army and rebels have fought fierce battles since July to control Syria’s second city and commercial hub. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards told a news conference in Tehran on Sunday that members of his elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, are present in Syria and Lebanon but insisted they were only there to provide “counsel.”

“A number of Quds Force members are present in Syria and Lebanon… we provide (these countries) with counsel and advice, and transfer experience to them,” Guards commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said.

“But it does not mean that we have a military presence there,” he added.

Several Western and Arab countries accuse Iran of giving military aid to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as the Syria conflict becomes increasingly bloody.

The latest violence comes after Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, warned after meeting President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Saturday that the conflict threatens both the region and the world at large.

“The crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world,” said the newly appointed Brahimi, who took over as envoy earlier this month from former UN chief Kofi Annan. The 78-year-old veteran Algerian troubleshooter, on his first Damascus visit since replacing Annan who quit after a hard-sought peace deal he brokered became a dead letter, stressed that “the solution can only come from the Syrian people.” He said he currently had “no plan” to tackle the crisis, but a strategy will be “set… after listening to all internal, regional and international parties.”

Assad, quoted by state television, said dialogue between Syrians held the key to a solution and called on foreign countries to stop supplying arms to his foes. “The success of political action is dependent on putting pressure on the countries that finance and train the terrorists, and which bring weapons into Syria, until they stop doing so,” Assad said. Syrian’s violence has spilled over into Lebanon where supporters and opponents of the Damascus regime have squared off in often deadly clashes over the past months.

On Saturday the 85-year-old pontiff had words of praise for young Syrians, saying: “I want to tell you how much I admire your courage.”Pupils headed back to schools on Sunday across Damascus, where most establishments reopened for a new term, which a UNICEF spokeswoman has described as one of “immense challenge.” “For children, being back at school is one of the most effective ways of giving them a sense of stability, hope and normality,” said UNICEF’s Marixie Mercado. “It really is a hugely important way of enabling children who have gone through a nightmare to see that they do have a future.”

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: )