“A good number” of unmanned U.S. military drones are operating in the skies over Syria, monitoring the President Basir al-Assad’s military’s crackdown against the opposition, U.S. defense officials tell NBC News.
According to the unnamed officials, the drone surveillance is not in preparations for a future military operation in Syria. Rather, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is hoping to use the visual evidence and intercepts of Syrian government and military communications in an effort to “make the case for a widespread international response.”
Unlike in Libya and the regime of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, there has been no widespread international support for military intervention in Syria.
Despite debate among White House, State Department and Pentagon officials about possible humanitarian missions, officials fear that those missions could not be carried out without jeopardizing those involved and would almost certainly draw the U.S. into a military role in Syria.
On Friday, Syrian government forces, disregarding U.N. condemnation, renewed their bombardment of the opposition stronghold of Homs as a Chinese minister arrived for talks with embattled President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday.
Demonstrations against Assad were reported by activists in cities across Syria, including the capital Damascus and the commercial hub Aleppo, after Friday Muslim prayers despite the threat of violence from security forces.
Must respect Syrian sovereignty
Chinese vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun arrived in Damascus after the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution telling the increasingly isolated president to halt the crackdown and surrender power.
After holding talks with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Meqdad late on Friday, Zhai said the international community must respect Syria’s sovereignty.
“We exchanged views on ways to strengthen our cooperation in the face of this difficult period in Syria,” said Zhai, whose government has twice joined Moscow in blocking U.N. Security Council condemnation of the Damascus regime’s deadly crackdown on an 11-month uprising.
“The sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected by all sides and by the international community,” the official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted him as saying.
“China hopes that national dialogue and reforms will move forward in Syria,” he added.
On Thursday, before heading to Damascus, Zhai said Beijing opposed armed intervention and forced “regime change” in Syria.
China and Russia have faced a barrage of criticism for blocking action by the UN Security Council, including from Arab nations with which Beijing normally has good ties.
“We urge the Syrian government and all of its political parties to immediately and fully end all acts of violence and quickly restore stability and normal social order,” said Zhai.
“China condemns all acts of violence against innocent civilians” and “does not approve of armed intervention or forcing so-called “regime change”,” he was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters Zhai would “exchange views with the Syrian government and parties concerned in Syria on the current... situation to push for a peaceful and proper resolution of the... crisis.”