Army drops leaflets over Damascus

Urging rebels to give up arms or face death

Syrian military helicopters dropped thousands of leaflets over Damascus and its suburbs Tuesday, urging rebels to hand over their weapons or face "inevitable death" as part of a widening and deadly offensive to recapture areas near the capital that have fallen into rebel hands.

The leaflets appear to be part of the regime's psychological warfare against the rebels, but are highly unlikely to have any effect on fighters intent on toppling President Bashar Assad's regime. Human rights groups say more than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against Assad began in March 2011.

The head of the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, criticised U.S. officials for saying it was premature to speak about a provisional Syrian government.

Abdelbaset Sieda, speaking in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, said the opposition is making "serious" preparations and consultations to announce a transitional government, but admitted it is not imminent.

On Monday, French President Francoise Hollande called on the Syrian opposition to form a provisional government, saying France would recognise it. But Hollande's statement, believed to be the first of its kind, was quickly shot down by U.S. officials who said it was premature to speak about a provisional government when Syria's fractured opposition hasn't even agreed yet on a transition plan.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to speak publicly on the matter, cited persistent disagreements among the Syrian National Council and rival opposition groups, and between Syrian opposition figures campaigning outside the country and rebels fighting the Assad regime on the front line.

"We're nowhere near that yet," one U.S. official said.

Sieda said the U.S. comments show the international community was not ready not ready" to take decisive decisions when it comes to Syria.

"It seems to me as if the international community is not prepared to take decisive decisions and blames the Syrian opposition for its own shortcomings," Sieda said.

"Yes there are differences within the Syrian opposition and this is normal in any country, but as long as we are agreed on a common vision, these differences can be overcome," he added.

"The international international community must make a move before it's too late."
Syria's opposition has been plagued by divisions and infighting since the start of the uprising last year, and forming a transitional government is fraught with difficulties.

In addition to the SNC, several other opposition groups are known to be making similar plans, including a new opposition alliance headed by veteran opposition figure Haitham Maleh.

Sieda said his group has been contacting other opposition figures and the Free Syrian Army rebels to consult over a transitional government, but admits they have not started discussing names yet.

For more than a month, the military has been fighting major battles against rebels in the outskirts of Damascus and its suburbs while engaged in what appears to be a stalemated fight in the north against rebels for control of Aleppo, the nation's largest city and commercial capital.

The government recently has intensified its offensive to recapture rebellious districts on the capital's periphery, and hundreds of people have been killed in several days of shelling and clashes in the affected areas. Over the weekend evidence mounted of mass killings by regime forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya after it was stormed by troops.

Some of the leaflets dropped Tuesday, which were signed by the armed forces and the army's general command, read: "The Syrian army is determined to cleanse every inch in Syria and you have only two choices: Abandon your weapons ... or face inevitable death."

"No one will help you. They have implicated you in taking up arms against your compatriots," they said. "They drown in their pleasures while you face death. Why? And for whom?"

Assad told an Iranian delegation this week that he was determined to crush the conspiracy against Syria "whatever the price."

With its forces stretched thin by fighting on multiple fronts, Assad's regime has increasingly turned to air power, unleashing both helicopters and fighter jets on the rebels.

The lightly armed fighters, in turn, have grown bolder and their tactics more sophisticated in recent months. Rebels claimed to have shot down a military helicopter that crashed in flames in the Damascus district of Al-Qaboun Monday. State media confirmed the crash but gave no details about the cause.

Amnesty investigating fake blog post

Amnesty International says it is investigating how fake blog posts attacking Syria's opposition came to be posted on its website.

The human rights group did not provide details, but it was possible the article was the result of hacking by supporters of President Bashar Assad's regime.

The blog post claimed that a research mission conducted by Amnesty inside Syria has uncovered "crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian rebels," including prisoner abuse and execution.

The post called on the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on nations supporting the Syrian opposition.

Amnesty said it was alerted to the blog posts Monday and immediately removed them.

'Mistake' to keep Iran out of Syria peace bid

Vice President Faruq al-Shara said it would be a "mistake" to keep Iran out of international efforts to end the Syrian crisis, Al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

"Some countries' refusal to engage with Iran on efforts to settle Syria's crisis on the pretext that Iran is part of the problem is a clear political mistake," it quoted Shara as saying.

He likened such an omission to "keeping the United States out of any political effort to peacefully resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Shara made his first public appearance on Sunday since rumours circulated that he had tried to defect to the opposition and he was being held under house arrest.

President Bashar Al Assad's regime has been rattled by several high-profile defections as the Syrian conflict has escalated, including former prime minister Riad Hijab and prominent General Manaf Tlass, one of Assad's childhood friends.

Shara also called on "all sides (in Syria) to stop the violence," Al-Watan said.

The 73-year-old described former international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan and an agreement reached by world powers in Geneva in early July as the basis for a settlement.

Shara said Western members of the UN Security Council should help build on the two plans in order to "help the Syrian government and the opposition to engage in a national dialogue."

The United States strongly opposes any Iranian role in resolving the conflict in its ally Syria, in contrast to Annan and Russia which have said Tehran could play a constructive role.

Syrian refugees in Jordan camp double in past week: UN

The number of Syrians fleeing to the Al Zaatri refugee camp in Jordan has doubled in recent days, with more than 10,000 taking shelter there, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

"The pace of arrivals from the Syrian border to the Zaatri camp in north Jordan has doubled in the past week," Melissa Flemming, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, told a press conference.

She said that 10,200 people had poured into the camp in the week ending on August 27, compared with 4,500 the week before. More than 22,000 Syrians have taken shelter at the Al Zaatri camp since it opened on July 30.

"Refugees say many thousands more are waiting to cross amid violence aroung Daraa and we believe this could be the start of a much larger influx".

An increasing number of refugees were unaccompanied minors, she said.

"We have received in the camp over the past week an increased number of unaccompanied children," she said. "Some children report that their parents have died, or are staying behind in Syria to look after relatives or are working in other countries."

She did not give any numbers for the children, but a spokesman for the UN children agency Unicef said they were estimated at several hundred.

"In Syria, there is an urgent need to find alternative shelter for the increasing number of displaced people staying in schools," where classes are in theory due to resume on September 16, Flemming said.


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