BEIRUT — Receiving a high-level UN delegation on Saturday in Damascus, Syria’s foreign minister blamed the country’s problems on international sanctions and called on the UN to push for lifting the measures, which were imposed to punish the government for its crackdown on prodemocracy protesters that spiraled into armed conflict.
Government forces continued air and artillery strikes in the Damascus suburbs as a top UN official, Valerie Amos, visited the capital to investigate the needs of Syrians during a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people and led more than half a million Syrians to flee the country, with many more displaced inside Syria.
The civil war that came after the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests has left many cities and suburbs devastated as the government levels rebellious neighborhoods and some rebels set off deadly car bombs.
But Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and other officials placed the blame elsewhere, according to Syrian and foreign news reports, saying, ‘‘The sanctions imposed by the United States and countries of the European Union on Syria are responsible for the suffering of the Syrian people.’’
Syrian state news media reported that Leila Zerrougui, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, visited camps for families displaced by the fighting and called on all sides to protect children in the conflict.
In Jordan, officials who defected from the Syrian government announced that they had formed a new opposition group headed by Assad’s former prime minister, Riyad Farid Hijab.
The group, called the National Free Coalition of the Workers of Syrian Government Institutions, aims to keep state structures intact if Assad’s government falls, Reuters reported.
At a news conference in Amman, Jordan, the group expressed support for the Free Syrian Army rebel coalition and the Syrian National Coalition, recently recognized by the United States and others as the legitimate representative of Syrians.
In the northern city of Aleppo, rebels claimed to have taken another important military installation, the region’s infantry school, though some reports said that fighting continued there on Saturday.
Fighting also continued east of Damascus. The government claims to have pushed rebels out of some southern suburbs after heavy shelling, and is now focusing attacks in the east in a continuing effort to seal off the capital.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir reported, citing informed sources, that the government led rebels into a trap, withdrawing forces from some Damascus suburbs to draw rebels in, stretch their supply lines and later wipe them out.