CAIRO — China, Russia, and Iran all made declarations of support for the Syrian government yesterday, reaffirming their alliances in the face of broad, intense international lobbying for unity against President Bashar Assad as his nearly yearlong crackdown on domestic opponents has sharpened against restive areas.
The worst violence yesterday was reported in the central city of Homs, which has been under sustained assault for more than two weeks. The day’s toll of that city’s residents, as compiled by various groups that try to track the violence from inside and outside the country, ranged from 16 to more than 40 killed. At the same time, the faction of the opposition that is armed has claimed several more lives, according to the Syrian government, whose news agency reported the funerals of three soldiers killed in or near Damascus and in the city of Hama, to the north.
Russia said it would not participate in a meeting in Tunisia on Friday of a contact group of Western and Arab nations, Friends of Syria, at which opposition figures were expected to lobby for greater international recognition and support.
The Syrian government’s news agency, SANA, reported that a Chinese special envoy to the Middle East, Wu Sike, visited Damascus yesterday and called for dialogue with all sides in the crisis. SANA also reported from Beijing on a news conference by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Li, in which he called for “the international community to respect the sovereignty, stability, and unity of Syria.’’
Li did not say whether China would attend the Friends of Syria conference.
Iranian officials, at a regular foreign ministry news conference in Tehran, did not explicitly discuss the conference, but denounced Western meddling in the affairs of its longstanding ally as benefiting Israel at the expense of those who resist its power.
“What is happening in Syria serves the best interests of Israel and weakens the resistance,’’ said a ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, as quoted by SANA.
But the United States threw some of the Iranian support for Syria into question, suggesting that Iran’s reports that it has sent two warships to help train Syrian forces were false.
“We have absolutely no indication whatsoever the Iranian ships ever docked in Syrian ports,’’ a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Iran’s Press TV satellite broadcaster had said the two ships, a destroyer and a supply ship, docked in Tartus on Saturday “to provide maritime training to naval forces of Syria under an agreement signed between Tehran and Damascus a year ago.’’
Red Cross officials did not respond to calls yesterday seeking to establish whether the organization’s efforts to secure even a brief cease-fire from government forces had been successful. But based on reports from activist groups and official Syrian media, the violence appeared unabated. Foreign journalists are generally not allowed in Syria, so such reports cannot be verified.
The assault on Homs appeared to be a continuation of the government attack on the city that began Feb. 4, after China and Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the violence and backing an Arab League plan for Assad to step aside.