The head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards has announced that elite troops have been deployed to Syria. Iran had previously not admitted its presence. The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria warned of a growing crisis.
Speaking at a rare news conference in Tehran, Guards commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari members of the Quds Force - the Guards' special forces unit responsible for missions abroad - were active in both Syria and Lebanon.
He said they were there to "counsel" forces fighting the Syrian opposition. Iran was "proud of defending Syria," Jafari said, declaring the country to be a member of the (anti-Israeli) "resistance."
Jafari did not indicate how many Iranian soldiers were in Syria but said they were providing "intellectual and advisory help." He stressed the Iranians were not active combatants: "It does not mean that we have a military presence."
Other countries and Syrian opposition groups had accused Iran of providing weapons and expertise to regime forces, but the country had denied this until now.
'Dangerous and getting worse'
Syrian television reported that UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with Assad Saturday to reignite efforts in an attempt to end the 18-month-old conflict. Brahimi told reporters after meeting Assad that the escalating conflict in Syria posed a threat to the region and the world at large, adding that the crisis is deepening and the gap between political parties is increasing.
"The crisis is dangerous and getting worse, and it is a threat to the Syrian people, the region and the world," Brahimi said. "The Syrian government has promised to help the [envoy's] office in Damascus to do its work well," Brahimi added.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims the conflict has killed more than 27,000 people. The United Nations puts the figure at 20,000.
mkg / rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)