Iran is playing an increasingly active role in helping the Syrian regime in its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, according to western diplomatic sources in Damascus.
The claim came as Syria’s security forces backed by tanks intensified operations to suppress unrest in three new flashpoint towns on Sunday and it was confirmed that four women had been shot dead in the first use of force against an all-female demonstration. A senior western diplomat in Damascus expanded on assertions, first made by White House officials last month, that Iran is advising president Bashar al-Assad’s government on how to crush dissent.
The diplomat pointed to a “significant” increase in the number of Iranian personnel in Syria since protests began in March. Mass arrests in door-to-door raids, similar to those that helped to crush Iran’s “green revolution” in 2009, have been stepped up in the past week.
Human rights groups suggest more than 7,000 people have been detained since the uprising began. More than 800 people are said to have died, up to 50 during last Friday’s “day of defiance”. Sunday night two unarmed demonstrators were reportedly killed during a night rally in the city of Deir al-Zor.
In April, US officials made similar allegations about Iranian assistance for the regime, particularly in terms of intercepting or blocking internet, mobile phone and social media communications between the protesters and the outside world.