Syria’s foreign minister on Monday accused the United States, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey of supporting “terrorism” by funneling arms, money and foreign fighters to rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad while the UN chief decried killings and rights abuses by Assad’s government.
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, speaking on the last day of the annual 193-nation UN General Assembly, also accused Libya of backing the rebels and said an arm of the al-Qaeda network had taken responsibility for some bomb attacks in Syria.
Muallem said outside calls for Assad to step down amid the 18-month-old conflict were a “blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Syria, and the unity of its people and its sovereignty.”
His speech came three days after countries calling for Assad’s ouster met on the sidelines of the General Assembly but announced steps far short of what the rebels wanted as they press ahead in the civil war.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Muallem earlier on Monday and “raised in the strongest terms the continued killings, massive destruction, human rights abuses and aerial and artillery attacks committed by the government,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.
“He stressed that it was the Syrian people who were being killed every day and appealed to the government of Syria to show compassion to its own people,” the spokesman said.
At a high-level meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Monday, Ban singled out Syria for being one of eight states that had not signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“I have expressed grave concerns with statements made by representatives of the Syrian government regarding the existence of chemical weapons and their possible use,” Ban said. “I have also personally conveyed these concerns directly to President Assad in writing.
“The use of such weapons would be an outrageous crime with dire consequences,” he said.
Ban raised with Muallem the growing aid crisis inside Syria, which was also spilling over to neighbouring countries, the spokesman added. The United Nations said about 294,000 refugees from Syria had fled into Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.
More than 30,000 people have been killed, according to opposition activists, and there are fears the civil war could destabilise the wider Middle East.
Muallem said that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and France “clearly induce and support terrorism in Syria with money, weapons and foreign fighters.”
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have denied aiding the rebels. The United States and France have said they are providing “non-lethal” support and not weapons.
“Under the pretext of humanitarian intervention, these countries interfere in the domestic affairs of states, and impose unilateral economic sanctions that lack the moral and legal basis,” Muallem said.
“And under the pretext of concepts such as the ‘Responsibility to Protect’, drums of war are beaten, and sedition and unrest are spreading and damaging the structure of national societies,” he said.
Muallem was referring to a concept about governments’ responsibility to protect civilians that has become increasingly popular in Western diplomatic and academic circles. The concept was used to justify last year’s military intervention in Libya that led to the ouster and death of leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“Worst of all is to see permanent members of the Security Council, who launched wars under the pretext of combating terrorism, now support terrorism in my country,” Muallem said.
At a meeting of countries supporting Assad’s ouster held on Friday, the United States and France announced increased support for the Syrian opposition. But the meeting produced no sign that the direct military aid sought by the rebels to create safe havens for civilians was on the way.
Russia, backed by China, repeatedly has vetoed Western- and Arab-backed council resolutions that criticised the Syrian government and threatened it with sanctions, saying the United States, Europe and Gulf Arabs are seeking regime change.
Muallem said the Syrian government welcomed the appointment of international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and had itself long called for talks to end the conflict, but said the opposition was not interested.
“The success of any international effort requires, in addition to the commitment of the Syrian government, committing the states supporting armed groups in my country, particularly Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and others, to stop arming, funding, training and harbouring armed terrorist groups, and instead to encourage dialogue and renounce violence,” he said.
Muallem told the UN General Assembly that some people had tried to “fabricate a refugee crisis through inciting armed groups to intimidate Syrian civilians in border areas and forcing them to flee into neighbouring countries.”
“I appeal from this podium to those Syrian citizens to return to their towns and villages where the state will guarantee their safe return and their precious lives away from inhuman conditions they suffer in these camps,” he said.
Muallem also used his speech to criticise Israel for not joining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and not allowing the UN International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its facilities.
Syria has not allowed UN inspectors to visit a site in its desert Deir al-Zor region that US intelligence reports say was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons before Israel bombed it in 2007.