Syrian military holds exercises in show of force

In a show of force, Syria began large-scale military exercises today to simulate defending the country against outside "aggression."

Last Updated: Jul 09, 2012, 00:41 AM IST

Damascus: In a show of force, Syria began large-scale military exercises today to simulate defending the country against outside "aggression." Damascus` staunch ally Iran warned of a "catastrophe" in the region if no political solution to the 16-month-old Syrian conflict is found.

Tehran is Syria`s closest ally, and has stood by President Bashar Assad`s regime throughout the revolt against his rule despite a growing chorus of international condemnation. The relentless bloodshed has accelerated diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis, and spurred some in the Syrian opposition to urge the West to intervene militarily to stop a conflict that activists say has left more than 14,000 people dead.

Iran`s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, dismissed talk of foreign intervention, saying "nobody can imagine a military attack against Syria. We believe it will not happen. If it happens, Syria will defend itself and will not need help from Iran."

UN special envoy Kofi Annan, who is the architect of an international plan to end the crisis, acknowledged in an interview published yesterday that the international community`s efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed. Annan arrived in the Syrian capital today for talks with Assad, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

The West is reluctant to intervene in Syria in part because unlike the military intervention that helped bring down Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the Syrian conflict has the potential to quickly escalate. Damascus has a web of allegiances to powerful forces including Shiite powerhouse Iran and Lebanon`s Hezbollah and there are concerns that a military campaign could pull them into a wider conflagration.

"Some tried to portray the Syrian president as just another aggressor. Some tried to impose a no-fly zone. We must say that Syria is different from Libya," Abdollahian said. He declined to elaborate, but added: "there will be a catastrophe in the region, if there`s no political solution there."

Any outside intervention would also likely face strong opposition from Syrian ally Russia, as well as China, who have already shielded Damascus from diplomatic efforts to pressure the regime.

Speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan, Abdollahian dismissed questions about whether Iran would host Assad if he were to leave Syria, saying the issue of Assad fleeing his country and seeking refuge elsewhere is "a joke."

"He is following up on the situation in Syria. The Syrian people will decide their fate until another president is elected in 2014," he said.