Iran set the scene for a diplomatic showdown with fellow Islamic states over the suspension of Syria at a summit in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters in Jeddah that his country would oppose the exclusion of President Bashar al-Assad’s government from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has been recommended by the group’s foreign ministers.
“Suspending does not mean that the problem will be solved,” he said. “With such a reaction, you just erase the problem.”
The meeting is being attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad together with leaders from other Muslim states who are being asked to agree Syria’s suspension as a response to 17 months of civil conflict that has killed more than 21,000 people, according to estimates from the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in November.
“Some countries, like Iran, will have the right to object to it, but most countries have adopted it,” Isam Shanti, director of the OIC information department, said by phone from Jeddah. The resolution will be debated by Islamic leaders later today. Iran “wouldn‘t agree to the plan for the exclusion of Syria,’’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters today.
Syrian opposition fighters yesterday said they’d shot down a government MiG-23 on a bombing run over eastern Syria. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said the warplane crashed due to a ‘‘technical problem’’ during a training mission.
Video on Al Jazeera television from the Free Syrian Army showed what rebels said was the downing in flames of the MiG-23. Gunfire can be heard and a flame is seen emerging from the aircraft. A video link e-mailed by the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, and posted by the Sham News Network on YouTube, showed the captured pilot, who identified himself as Colonel Mufeed Mohamed Suleiman. The authenticity of the footage could not be confirmed.
The pilot calls on officers of the regular army to ‘‘defect from this gang’’ and says the bruises on his face are from the crash.
‘‘We’ve seen a very troubling and despicable uptick in attacks from the air perpetrated by the Syrian regime,’’ Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters in Washington. He said the U.S. was unable to confirm the rebels’ claim of a shootdown.
Plans to establish a no-fly zone over Syria are ‘‘not on the front burner,’’ U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Associated Press in an interview published today. While the U.S. armed forces could do the job, it would require a ‘‘major, major policy decision’’ to do so.
The Obama administration is reviewing the possibility of a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from air attacks, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said on Aug. 8. The president of the opposition Syrian National Council, Abdelbaset Sieda, called on Aug. 12 for the creation of a no-fly zone in border areas.
A United Nations-arranged cease-fire, agreed to in April, has failed to halt fighting. Syrian government forces killed 114 people yesterday, including 66 in Damascus and its suburbs, the Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Shelling continued in Damascus suburbs and Homs today, the group said.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for an intensification of planning for a Syria without Assad in a phone call late yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
The Syrian president’s special envoy, Buthaina Shaaban, will hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during a visit to China from today, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website yesterday. China is also considering inviting Syrian opposition groups to visit the country, Qin said.
‘‘It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, head of the UN’s monitoring force, told journalists in Damascus yesterday. “The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians.” The UN monitoring mission expires at the end of the week.
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