Iran sends head of elite force to Syria to advise Assad

19:22 - 12 February 2012
Kurdpa - The head of Iran\'s elite Quds Force is reportedly visiting Syria to advise the regime on repressing protests and the armed resistance, as consternation grows in Western capitals about Iranian involvement in the crisis.

Members of the opposition Syrian National Council said they had reliable intelligence that Qassem Suleimani was intimately involved with the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, and his ruling coterie.

\'\'It is his second visit at least,\'\' said Radwan Ziadeh, an executive member of the council. \'\'The Quds Force is working mainly with training, helping militias and snipers.\'\'
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Opposition fighters of the Free Syrian Army claim to have captured 29 Iranians during the uprising and last week posted a video of five captives with their passports. Reports in the Arab media have claimed that snipers from Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces have been brought in from Lebanon to support government forces fighting the FSA.

The rebels this week appealed for the US to supply weapons and other equipment. Identifying himself only as Mohammed, one rebel spoke via the internet to experts and journalists at a Washington think tank. \'\'The major point is logistical material support. We can do this ourselves, we\'re not asking for any troops,\'\' he said.

Diplomatic initiatives have so far yielded very little. The US is supporting a leading role for Turkey in organising international pressure on Syria, as the two allies seek to build a coalition able to back the Syrian opposition movement and help broker an end to the violence.

A US State Department official said time was running out before the international community would have to \'\'militarise\'\' the situation, which would involve arming rebels or military protection for humanitarian aid.

The diplomatic manoeuvring comes as the embattled city of Homs remained under siege for a seventh day on Friday, with sporadic tank shells ripping into contested neighborhoods.

\'\'Nobody dares venture into the streets,\'\' said a 65-year-old resident named Mohamed.

A constant stream of videos, said to be from Homs and posted on YouTube, left a grim impression of streets cluttered with rubble from damaged buildings and a constant flow of victims being treated in makeshift medical clinics.

Under such extreme conditions, with bodies believed trapped under the rubble, estimates of the death toll by activist organisations ranged widely, from about 50 to more than twice that.

The Quds, or Jerusalem, brigade is a special unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for external relations that reports directly to Iran\'s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Western and Arab experts and diplomats estimate that the number of troops and advisers from the Quds force in Syria to be in the high hundreds or low thousands.

Sources: Telegraph, London