msnbc.com news services
updated 6/22/2011 8:19:51 AM ET 2011-06-22T12:19:51

Syria's foreign minister denied Wednesday that Iran and Hezbollah were helping the regime put down unrest.

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem spoke in a televised address to throw his support behind President Bashar Assad. The U.S. has accused Iran of sending reinforcements and equipment to Syria.

"There is Iranian and Hezbollah political support for Syria to transcend this crisis and support for the reforms announced by President Bashar Assad," he said. "But there is absolutely no military support on the ground."

Moallem also vowed to present "an unprecedented example of democracy" in the country within three months.

Syria has come under increasing international pressure and sanctions over its brutal crackdown on a growing protest movement.

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Moallem also told reporters that al-Qaida might be behind some of the violence in the country.

"I cannot hide the fact that some of the practices that we have seen in the killings of security personnel gives an indication that these acts were carried out by al-Qaida," he added.

Moallem lashed out at the government's critics, particularly Europe, which imposed sanctions on Assad and members of the leadership over its deadly crackdown on protesters.

The opposition estimates more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Damascus unleashed military and other security forces to crush the protest movement, which sprang to life in March inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

The U.S. also has imposed sanctions, but the European move was a personal blow to Assad, who studied in Britain and made a high priority of efforts to bring Syria back into the global mainstream.

"We will forget that Europe is on the map and we will look east, south and toward every hand that is extended to us," Moallem said. "The world is not just made up of Europe."

Meanwhile, violence continued on Tuesday with the killing of seven people by security forces during clashes in two cities between Assad loyalists and demonstrators, according to a leading activist.

The deaths came a day after a speech in which Assad offered a vague promise of reform . It was brushed off as too little, too late, by the opposition, which wants an end to the Assad family's 40-year authoritarian rule.

Video: Assad blames 'saboteurs' for Syrian unrest (on this page)

In an attempt to blunt the uprising's momentum, tens of thousands of regime supporters converged on squares in several major cities on Tuesday, shouting, "The people want Bashar Assad!" and releasing black, white and red balloons — colors of the Syrian flag.

They soon clashed with opposition supporters, drawing in security forces. In a main square in the central city of Hama, security personnel opened fire on anti-regime protesters, killing a 13-year-old boy, said the Local Coordinating Committees, which track the Syrian protest movement.

Three other people were reported killed in Homs, in central Syria, and three in the Mayadin district in the eastern city of Deir el Zour during pro- and anti-regime demonstrations.

'An escalation'
The pro- and anti-Assad sides have fought each other in the past, but Tuesday's bloodshed appeared to be the worst such violence.

"We are seeing an escalation by authorities today," said Omar Idilbi, spokesman for the committees. "They are sending pro-government thugs along with security forces to attack protesters."

Interactive: Young and restless: Demographics fuel Mideast protests (on this page)

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced in Geneva on Tuesday the Syrian government has promised to give it and the Syrian Red Crescent more access to Syrians wounded and detained in the crackdown.

The announcement came after ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger met with Prime Minister Adel Safar and Moallem in Damascus. Kellenberger had urged Syria to allow the humanitarian organizations to operate unhindered to assess the needs of those affected in the unrest and military operations.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Assad blames 'saboteurs' for Syrian unrest

Data: Young and restless: Demographics fuel Mideast protests

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