UK & World News
Syria Violence: West Ups Pressure On Russia
The West, led by France and the US, has increased the pressure on Russia to stop sending arms to Syria, as anti-government demonstrators take to the streets of Damascus.
France followed the UN in describing the conflict in Syria as civil war, and insisted on an end of weapon exports to the country.
"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," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Foreign minister Laurent Fabius said: "Our intelligence, direct and indirect, shows that there are deliveries."
France's appeal followed claims from the US that Moscow was sending attack helicopters to Syria.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the shipment "will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."
But Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow was completing earlier weapons contracts with Syria exclusively for air defence systems - which could not be used against civilians.
"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 United States denied the claims.
"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 Jay Carney said.
Mr Fabius also proposed making UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for the region - drawn up but not implemented - obligatory, by invoking the a provision of the UN's charter.
Chapter 7 allows the Security Council to authorise actions ranging from sanctions to military intervention, but Russia and China have previously vetoed two strong resolutions against Syria.
Rejecting claims of a civil war, the Syrian government insisted it is fighting "terrorists" - as thousands of refugees fled over the border into Turkey to escape the violence.
The foreign ministry said UN officials should remain "neutral, objective and precise".
"Talk of civil war in Syria is not consistent with reality... what is happening in Syria is a war against armed terrorist groups," the ministry said.
Syrian state television said troops had cleared "terrorist" fighters from the town of Haffeh, one of the areas most affected by the violence of recent days.
They said forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad had restored calm and security in Haffeh after they "cleansed it of armed terrorist groups".
Scores of rebels have been forced to withdraw from the area, near the Mediterranean coast, after days of heavy bombardment.
The town is of strategic importance to Assad as it is only 20 miles away from his hometown of Kardaha in Latakia province.
Syrian forces also continued their heavy shelling of the rebel-held districts of the central city of Homs.
Earlier, Turkey's foreign minister Selcuk Unal announced that a new influx of some 2,000 refugees takes the total number of Syrians seeking refuge in the country to just short of 30,000.
The last two days have seen the highest intake of refugees to Turkey since the start of the uprising in January last year.
Mr Unal said 43 of the new refugees were wounded and have been given hospital treatment since their arrival.
Turkey has given shelter to more than 50,000 Syrians since March 2011 but thousands have since returned to their homes in Syria.