SIXTEEN MONTHS INTO the uprising that has seen up to 19,000 people lose their lives, events in Syria are unfolding at a rapidly increasing pace.
Today, Russia has once more wade into the debate about international intervention, Turkey has shut its borders gates and reports of further defections from Bashar Assad’s regime are emerging.
Moscow has this morning accused the US of justifying terrorism in Syria by supporting an armed opposition. Sergey Lavrov made the comments after Washington failed to condemn the 18 July explosion which killed top security officials, including Assad’s brother-in-law and the country’s Defence Minister.
“This is quite an awful position, I cannot even find the words to make clear how we feel,” Lavrov told reporters. “This is directly justifying terrorism. How can this be understood?”
Russia denies backing Assad and his unpopular leadership, claiming it has an even-handed approach to the conflict. However, its Foreign Ministry has rejected the sanctions adopted by the European Union on Monday.
Meanwhile, Turkey has sealed its borders to trucks today, cutting off a vital supply line to Syria. “We have serious concerns over the safety of Turkish trucks regarding their entry and return from Syria,” said Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan. Turkey has criticised its one-time ally Assad for it his failure to implement promised reforms and the country’s borders will remain open to refugees. Since last March, thousands of Syrian have fled to areas of Turkey, seeking solace from the violence.
That fighting has escalated in recent days with thousands of troops deployed to Aleppo, the country’s largest city, to launch a major counter offensive against rebels.
Fighter jets have been reportedly flying over the district today but not dropping any bombs. Activist groups say that dozens of citizens were killed in yesterday’s fighting. They put the death toll across the country on Tuesday at 158 dead – 114 civilians, 31 Syrian soldiers and 13 rebel fighters.
A video of footage shot yesterday shows a burning police station near a rebel-held area. (YouTube credit: syriahro)
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has claimed that Assad’s forces are also using helicopter gunships and machinegun fire in attempts to reclaim neighbourhoods in the capital Damascus.
The country’s two largest cities have seen violence escalate in the past week, a change from the past year-and-a-half when the conflict remained mostly outside their jurisdictions.
According to BBC, large numbers of Syrian soldiers – loyal to Assad – have been moved from their posts at the Turkish border and have been ordered to travel to Aleppo.
Back on the diplomatic front, The Guardian’s live blog reports that more than half of the United Nation’s 300 observers have left the county as the mission enters its final 30 days.
Chief peacekeeper Herve Ladsous told a press conference about the “reduced format” but said the observation mission “does what it can”.
“We have 30 days and around today 27 to go, so every opportunity will be seized to alleviate the suffering of the population. This is our main concern,” added new head of the mission Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye.
(YouTube credit: UNSMIS)
In other diplomatic developments, Syria’s charge d’affairs in Cyprus Lamia Hariri has defected from the regime. She is now reportedly in Qatar after leaving her post on Tuesday, telling staff she felt unwell. It is still not clear if her husband has also defected.
The news of her exit from the Assad regime comes after Al Jazeera reported the defections of Abdel Latif Al Dabbagh, Syria’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Brigadier-General Manaf Tlass.
Foreign journalists are severely restricted while working in Syria so reports and death tolls from both sides are almost impossible to verify.
-Additional reporting by AP and AFP