PARIS - (AFP/Reuters) - The West, led by the United States and France, is seeking to up the pressure on key Syria ally Russia to stop sending weapons they say Bashar al-Assad's regime is using in its bloody crackdown on rebels.
"We are calling for a complete halt to arms exports to the Syrian regime as asked by joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan before the Security Council last week," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday renewed her call on Russia to end arms deliveries to Syria, saying that the violence-torn nation was "spiraling toward civil war." Clinton said she supported cooperation with Russia but stood firm on her call for an end to arms deliveries, a day after she charged that Moscow was sending attack helicopters to Syria that could escalate the conflict.
During a visit to fellow Syria ally Iran on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in turn accused the United States of supplying weapons to Syria's rebels.
He insisted that Russia was supplying "anti-air defence systems" to Damascus in a deal that "in no way violates international laws". "That contrasts with what the United States is doing with the opposition, which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government," he said.
The US Wednesday denied Russia's claim that it is arming Syria's opposition and expressed new concern over what it says is Moscow's supply of attack helicopters to Damascus. "We do not and have not supplied weapons to the Syrian opposition. You know our position on that and we have made it very clear," White House spokesman told reporters.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said on Wednesday that Syria was on the verge of collapse and that he would be holding urgent talks with his Russian counterpart on Thursday to ensure implementation of a peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan. "Syria is on the edge of a collapse or of a deadly sectarian civil war," he told reporters in Kabul where he will attend a regional conference on Afghanistan. He said he would meet Russia's Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the conference to persuade Russia to use its leverage with the Syrian government to implement Annan's plan.
Meanwhile, the Syrian govt said on Wednesday it is fighting "terrorists" and not a civil war, as rebels pulled out of a besieged enclave where an eight-day bombardment had raised fears for trapped civilians. The govt consistently refers to the rebel Free Syrian Army and other armed groups as "terrorists" and has accused the US and its allies of complicity in their operations.
Meanwhile, an opposition group in the country said on Wednesday that Syria has not entered into a civil war. "This announcement makes the killer and the victim equal and ignores all the massacres committed by the Assad regime," the Syrian Revolution General Commission said, adding that people in the country "are only asking for freedom and dignity."
Meanwhile, Syrian troops on Wednesday crossed into Lebanon's eastern border region of Al-Qaa and planted mines around the home of a local resident before withdrawing, a security official told AFP. The official said the troops entered some 300 yards inside Lebanese territory and placed the mines outside the home of Mohammad Akeel.
Meanwhile, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that foreign military intervention was "not the right path" in Syria despite the UN's peacekeeping chief declaring the country in civil war.
Rasmussen said there were "no plans at this stage" for a NATO operation, as he condemned the UN Security Council failure to reach agreement as a "big mistake", saying Russia could have an "instrumental role" in brokering peace.