Syria: Little Hope of Respite
As The Middle East goes to press, there are few signs that the conflict in Syria is nearing its end. Reports of Syrian forces bombarding the flashpoint city of Homs and opening fire to disperse protestors in the capital continue, despite pleas from the international community for calm. On 22 February, two western correspondents, the US-born veteran war reporter Marie Colvin of Britain's Sunday Times and French photographer Remi Ochlik, lost their lives in Homs in a single day.
President Bashar Assad has accused 'foreign parties' of funding 'armed terrorist groups' to destabilise Syria and prevent any form of solution being reached.
The President is reported to have made the comments in a meeting with a visiting top Russian MP Alexei Pushkov, head of the international committee of Russia's Lower House of Parliament. Assad is reported to have thanked Russia for its support of his country which he said was being "targeted by armed terrorist groups receiving funding and arms from foreign parties, aiming to destabilise Syria". The same parties, Assad continued, "were determined to block all efforts to reach a solution".
Meanwhile, two warships from Iran, a key backer of the Syrian regime, docked at the Port of Tartus, as Tehran's state television reported their crew would be undertaking the training of Syrian soldiers. Iran's navy chief, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, had earlier announced that the ships, a destroyer and a supply vessel, had passed through the Suez Canal to show the "might" of the Islamic Republic. Such shows of public muscle flexing do not augur well for a negotiated peace any time soon.
In Washington, the possibility of an Al Qaeda connection was thrown into the already toxic mix when US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta expressed concern that a spokesman for the outlawed group had voiced support for the Opposition in Syria. …