The United States on Friday said it plans new sanctions against the Syrian regime and its supporters, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.
“We will be tightening even further with additional sanctions that drive at both Syrian entities and those who are supporting the efforts of the Syrian government to oppress its own people,” a U.S. official told reporters traveling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Ghana.
The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist group. The U.S. Treasury’s top official on terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen, said the group’s actions have contributed to the suppression of the Syrian people.
“Long after the Assad regime is gone, the people of Syria and the entire global community will remember that Hezbollah, and its patron Iran, contributed to the regime’s murder of countless innocent Syrians,” he said.
The U.S. actions came as Syrian rebels vowed to regroup and keep fighting as government forces launched a new bombardment of besieged Aleppo Friday amid an escalating flood of refugees to Turkey and Jordan.
Reports from in and around Aleppo say government forces brought in more T-82 tanks and fresh troops to step up their attack on the embattled Salaheddin district.
Arab media reported that some rebel Free Syrian Army rebel fighters withdrew from Salaheddin, while new fighters from elsewhere replaced them. Amateur videos showed FSA fighters firing automatic weapons as they ran back and forth along narrow side-streets.
Syrian government warplanes continued to dominate the skies, firing at rebel positions on the ground and bombing many targets.
Syrian state TV said government forces had driven “terrorist” fighters from out of most of Aleppo, showing a live web cam from the north of the city to show that life was going on as normal.
Rebel field commander Malek al-Kurdi told VOA’s Persian service on the Turkish-Syrian border that the rebels desperately need international help.
“We had wanted an active role from the international community to take a bold decision to stop the massacres in Syria,” he said. “But the delay and the modest capabilities of the Free Syrian Army has put the Syrian situation in a state of limbo. This has opened the way for extremist groups from different places with goals separate from the Syrian people to get financial support to continue the revolution.”
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said the battle for Aleppo is not proving to be a knock-out blow for either side.
He said that the rebels have not lost their resupply lines to Salaheddin, while in the Idlib countryside they’re mopping up, making the rural areas beyond Aleppo more and more a safe haven for the opposition, challenged only by government air power.
Abou Diab said that the battle for Aleppo is not as decisive as both sides are making it out to be because the seat of power is in the capital, Damascus — 600 kilometers away.
Aid for rebels
Britain said Friday it will give the Syrian rebels nearly $8 million for communications equipment and medical supplies.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain will still not supply any weapons and said the money will be used for items including mobile and satellite phones, power generators and medical and water purification kits. He told reporters the aid will also include body armor and other protective equipment for civilians in conflict areas.
“This is not taking sides in a civil war,” Hague wrote in an article published in the Times newspaper Friday. “The risk of total disorder and a power vacuum is so great that we must build relationships now with those who may govern Syria in the future.”
Hague said Britain will increase its contacts with the Syrian opposition. He said Britain will stress to the rebels that they must adhere to standards on human rights, no matter what “horrors” are perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Britain had previously allocated a little more than $2 million in non-lethal support to the opposition seeking to overthrow Mr. Assad and about $43 million in humanitarian aid.
Hague told reporters Friday the Syrian people “cannot wait indefinitely” for a resolution to the conflict.
The U.S. Secretary of State is expected in Turkey on Saturday for discussions with Syrian opposition leaders and Turkish leaders as how to bolster the anti-Assad cause.
U.N. peace efforts
Meanwhile, diplomats say former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi could replace former U.N. chief Kofi Annan as the new United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria.
Mr. Annan resigned from the post last week, blaming a lack of unity in the U.N. Security Council.
Russia and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions on Syria that would have held President Assad responsible for his failure to abide by Mr. Annan’s peace plan and threatened him with sanctions.
News reports indicate the replacement for Mr. Annan could be named next week.
The 78-year-old Brahimi, who served as Algeria’s foreign minister from 1991 to 1993, would bring a high level of experience to the position after helping to end Lebanon’s civil war in the late 1980s as an Arab League envoy.
Brahimi also served as the U.N. envoy in Afghanistan both before and after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Turkey and Lebanon reported thousands of refugees crossing from Syria overnight.
The United Nations refugee agency says it has registered nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. It says many more Syrians have fled the country than are reflected in these numbers.
Nearly 200,000 of Aleppo’s 2.5 million residents have fled the city since battles erupted between the Syrian government and rebels in mid-July. Most of the Syrians are internally displaced.
But a U.N. refugee spokesman, Adrian Edwards, said a growing number of Syrians are fleeing to neighboring countries, especially to Turkey, in search of refuge.
“There certainly, in the past week, has been a sharp increase in the numbers arriving into Turkey,” Edwards said. “And, there, many of the people are coming from Aleppo and surrounding villages. Now, if you look at other areas, I think the situation is more of a steady and continued increase. But where fighting happens, we tend to see the consequences.”
The nearly 150,000 refugees registered by the UNHCR do not accurately reflect the numbers of civilians that have fled Syria, Edwards said. A great many refugees in several countries have not registered with the U.N. They are living on their own or with family and friends.
Edwards said the refugee population in Turkey has exceeded 50,000 people. More than 6,000 new arrivals were recorded this week. He says many of the refugees are from Aleppo and surrounding villages, but others are from Idlib and Latakia.
Syrian refugees currently are living in nine camps in Turkey. Women and children make up more than two-thirds of the population.
The Turkish government opened a new camp a few days ago. It also has announced it plans to construct a further 13 new sites that will be able to house an additional 50,000 refugees.
Edwards said nearly 37,000 Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, but thousands more who have recently arrived in Lebanon are not yet registered with UNHCR.
“Information campaigns and the dissemination of our office’s registration hotline continues in border villages to encourage newly arrived families to make themselves known to us,” he said. “Displaced Syrian families have continued to cross Lebanon’s eastern borders into Beirut, Tripoli and Saida. Our protection staff continues to monitor the influx.”
The U.N. reports nearly 46,000 registered refugees in Jordan, including almost 4,000 who arrived this month. Iraq has more than 13,500 Syrians either registered as refugees or receiving assistance; most of them are in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Iraq is also seeing a growing number of Iraqi returnees from Syria, where they had gone to escape violence in Iraq. The agency reports 23,228 Iraqi refugees have left Syria since mid-July to return to the homes they fled after the U.S.-led incursion into Iraq began in 2003.
The U.N. says 89,000 registered Iraqi refugees remain in Syria.
Ed Yeranian contributed to the article from Cairo, with Lisa Schlein in Geneva.