AMMAN/BEIRUT â€” Two Iranian warships Monday docked at the Syrian naval base of Tartus, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.
The Iranian naval ships were said to be providing training for Syrian naval forces under an agreement signed a year ago.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, quoted by the semi official Fars news agency, said: â€œOur ships passed through the Suez Canal and it is Iranâ€™s right to have a presence in international waters.â€
With Iran already at odds with the United States, Europe and Israel over its nuclear program, the deployment was likely to add to Western concerns that the Syria crisis could boil over into a regional conflict if it not resolved soon.
Also Syrian troops massed around Homs, sparking calls for women and children to flee the besieged flashpoint city.
The reported buildup came as the top US military officer, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said any intervention in Syria would be â€œvery difficultâ€ and that it was â€œprematureâ€ to arm the unrest-swept countryâ€™s opposition movement.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad met a senior Russian politician in Damascus, who reiterated Moscowâ€™s support and spoke out against any foreign intervention in the conflict. And Chinaâ€™s influential Peopleâ€™s Daily warned any Western support for Syriaâ€™s rebels would lead to a â€œlarge-scale civil war.â€
Activists and Syrian state media reported at least 14 people were killed Sunday, adding to the more than 6,000 people who have died in President Bashar Al-Assadâ€™s 11-month crackdown on dissent.
â€œInfantry troops arrived yesterday (Sunday) in Homs,â€ Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP on the telephone. A Homs-based activist voiced fears of an imminent attack on Baba Amr, the main rebel stronghold in the central city, speaking of â€œunprecedented military reinforcements coming from Damascus.â€
The Peopleâ€™s Daily, in a front page commentary on Monday, said: â€œIf Western countries continue to fully support Syriaâ€™s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention.â€
A Chinese envoy met Assad in Damascus Saturday and backed his plan to hold a referendum this coming Sunday on a new constitution.
Syriaâ€™s official SANA news agency said about 14,600,000 people throughout the country were eligible to take part in the referendum.
The West and Syrian opposition figures have dismissed the plan as a joke. â€” Agencies __