Assad military conducts large-scale exercises as fighting spills into Lebanon
A grab TV picture released by Syrian Arab News Agency on 7 July 2012 show Syrian Armed Forces performing military exercises for several days, involving ground, naval and air forces, in order to test their combat readiness. (Photo: EPA)
Assad's military began large-scale exercises simulating defense against outside “aggression,” the state-run news agency said Sunday -- an apparent warning to other countries not to intervene in the Syrian crisis.
On Saturday, the Syrian conflict spilled further into Lebanon when mortar fire from President Bashar al-Assad's forces hit villages in the north, killing five people after rebels crossed the border to seek refuge, residents said. Rebels fighting to unseat Assad have used north Lebanon as a base and his forces have at times bombed villages and even pursued insurgents over the border, threatening to stoke tension in Lebanon, whose sectarian divisions mirror those in Syria.
The war games began on Saturday with naval forces in a scenario where they repelled an attack from the sea, and will include air and ground forces over the next few days, SANA agency said. State TV broadcast footage of missiles being fired from launch vehicles and warships.
Some in the Syrian opposition have appealed to the West for foreign forces to step in to stop bloodshed that they say has left more than 14,000 dead since an uprising against Assad began in March 2011. So far, the West has shown little appetite to intervene.
Special UN envoy Kofi Annan acknowledged in an interview published Saturday that the international community's efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed.
“The evidence shows that we have not succeeded,” he told the French daily Le Monde.
Annan, the special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, is the architect of the most prominent international plan to end the crisis in Syria.
His six-point plan was to begin with a cease-fire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad. But the truce never took hold, and now the almost 300 UN observers sent to monitor the cease-fire are confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that time is running out on Syrian peace hopes and warned that the Syrian state could collapse.
Speaking in Japan, Clinton said Annan's acknowledgement that his peace plan is failing “should be a wake-up call for everyone.”
She said last month was the deadliest for the Syrian people in the 16-month revolt, but added that the opposition “is getting more effective in defense of themselves and going on the offensive against the Syrian military.”
Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha attended the maneuvers and praised the “exceptional performance” of the naval forces which showed “a high level of combat training and ability to defend Syria's shores against any possible aggression.”
“The navy carried out the training successfully, repelling the hypothetical attack and striking at given targets with high precision,” the report said.
Fighting spills into Lebanon, five killed
Residents of Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region said several mortar bombs hit farm buildings five to 20 kilometers (3 to 12 miles) from the border at around 2 a.m. At midday villagers reported more explosions and said they heard gunfire close to the border.
In the village of al-Mahatta, a house was destroyed, killing a 16-year-old girl and wounding a two-year old and a four-year old, family members told Reuters. A 25-year-old woman and a man were killed in nearby villages, residents said.
Two Bedouins were killed in the village of Hishe, which straddles a river demarcating the border, when two rocket-propelled grenades fired from within Syria hit their tent, according to local residents.
Lebanon's army confirmed one of the deaths and said several Syrian shells had landed in Lebanese territory, but had no further information. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman issued a statement regretting the deaths and promising an investigation.
Syria's bloodshed has also encroached on the territory of Turkey, a much bigger and more militarily powerful neighbor. Ankara, a former Assad friend turned foe, reinforced its frontier and scrambled fighter aircraft several times after Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet on June 22.
The diplomatic stalemate that has frustrated international efforts to bring about a peaceful transition in Syria persisted on Saturday as China joined Russia in rejecting a US accusation that Beijing and Moscow were obstacles to a solution.
In Syria, the army bombarded towns across northern Aleppo province on Saturday in a concerted effort to root out the opposition fighters who have taken control of some areas, the anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The bombing is the heaviest since the start of military operations in rural Aleppo in an attempt to control the region after regular Syrian army forces suffered heavy losses over the past few months,” the British-based activist group reported.
It said three people had died, including two opposition fighters.