Assad’s regime has been battling the uprising with both military forces and pro-government militias. In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday said that Iran is providing military training to one of the militias, part of a growing effort by Tehran to prevent armed rebels from driving an ally from power.
“We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern,” Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. “We do not think Iran ought to be playing that role. It adds to the killing.”
The militia, known as the Army of the People, has emerged as a force over the last year as Syria’s military has struggled to put down the rebellion. Its fighters are drawn mainly from Shiite Muslims and Alawites, two sects that form the core of the regime’s support against the largely Sunni Muslim revolt. It wasn’t immediately clear where, or how large, the militia is.
U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos on Tuesday arrived in Damascus, the Syrian capital, as part of a three-day trip to the region to discuss humanitarian aid for those trapped by the escalating combat or forced to flee their homes. Amos’ visit came a day after activists said more than 150 people across the country were killed in the ongoing conflict.
Amos came to discuss ways of urgently increasing relief efforts and reducing civilian suffering with Syrian authorities, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other humanitarian groups. Later in her trip she will meet with refugee families in Lebanon and discuss with the Lebanese government and relief organizations on how best to support them.