Damascus: The Syrian foreign minister accused the US and its allies of stoking "terrorism" in his country, delivering an uncompromising message before the United Nations tuesday as fighting spread in a centerpiece of Syria`s cultural heritage, the historic Old City of Aleppo.
Elsewhere in the country, a government air raid on a northern town killed at least 21 people, activists said.
Addressing the UN General Assembly`s annual ministerial meeting, Walid al-Moallem denounced countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey for supporting the opposition, and also lashed out at calls in Washington and in Arab and European capitals for President Bashar Assad to step down.
"This terrorism which is externally supported is accompanied by unprecedented media provocation based on igniting religious extremism sponsored by well-known states in the region," he said, an apparent allusion to an anti-Islam film that has sparked protests throughout the Muslim world.
He invited the opposition to "work together to stop the shedding of Syrian blood" and said that a Syrian-led dialogue could produce a "more pluralistic and democratic" country.
Al-Moallem`s call, similar to other overtures made by Assad`s regime, is unlikely to be heeded by the opposition.
Most opposition factions have repeatedly dismissed the government`s purported peace initiatives as propaganda, meant to buy time. They say will accept nothing less that Assad stepping down as a precondition for talks.
But on many other points, the Syrian opposition`s political factions as well as rebel groups fighting on the ground are deeply divided.
The Damascus representative of the new international peace envoy to Syria said today that the large number of rival rebel groups is one of the main obstacles to a UN mission`s efforts to broker an end to Syria`s 18-month crisis.
With every diplomatic effort so far failing to halt the violence, Syria`s civil war has descended into a deadly daily grind as the regime and the rebels trying to overthrow Assad both try to gain the upper hand.
Some of the heaviest fighting today took place in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria`s commercial capital, where rebels recently launched a new offensive.
Aleppo-based activist Mohammed Saeed said 12 people were killed when troops shelled a mosque in the city.