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Syrian official warns US against intervention

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A Syrian military tank takes position in a residential street in the flashpoint city of Homs (PHOTO/JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

A Syrian military tank takes position in a residential street in the flashpoint city of Homs (PHOTO/JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

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BEIRUT (AP) — A Syrian government official warned the United States Tuesday that military intervention in Syria could lead to regional turmoil as regime forces bombed a northern village and stormed a rebel-held Damascus suburb, killing dozens of people, activists said.

The comments came a day after President Barack Obama said the U.S would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in the Syrian civil war if Bashar Assad’s government deploys or uses chemical or biological weapons, describing it as a “red line” for the United States.

Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil called Obama’s statements “propagandistic threats” made in connection with the U.S. presidential election. But Jamil also said the comments indicate that the West is looking for a pretext to intervene militarily.

He insisted that such intervention would be “impossible” because it would cause the civil war to spread to other countries in the region.

“Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria’s borders,” Jamil told reporters during a visit to Moscow.

The conflict already has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon, where sectarian tensions have risen.

Clashes that broke out Monday night between the two sides in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli killed at least six people and wounded more than 70 in some of the most serious fighting in Lebanon in several months, the Lebanese state-run news agency said. The wounded included nine Lebanese soldiers.

The mostly Sunni city also saw gunbattles in May, when fighting over Syria killed eight people. The latest clashes were between gunmen from the Sunni neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and the neighboring district of Bab Tabbaneh, which is mostly populated by followers of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Assad is a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, while rebels fighting his regime are predominantly Sunnis.

The streets around the two districts were sealed off by roadblocks to keep people away from the line of snipers’ fire, but life went on normally in the rest of the city despite the occasional sound of gunfire.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was “very concerned” about the spillover effect from Syria.

Heavy fighting also continued in and around Aleppo on Tuesday.

On Monday, veteran Japanese war correspondent Mika Yamamoto became the first foreign journalist to die in the northern Syrian city since clashes between rebels and regime forces erupted there almost a month ago.

Syrian government forces also reportedly captured two other journalists there, including Alhurra TV correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cuneyt Unal.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Masaru Sato said Yamamoto, 45, was hit by gunfire while she and a colleague were traveling with rebels from the Free Syrian Army who are fighting the Assad regime.

Yamamoto worked for The Japan Press, an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict zone coverage.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist said at least 16 journalists have been killed since November while covering Syria, making it “the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.”

A statement from Springfield, Virginia-based Alhurra said the company has not been able to reach its correspondent and his cameraman since they entered Syria on Monday morning.

Most of Tuesday’s fighting appeared centered in Damascus suburbs, which have witnessed a dramatic spike in fighting over the past month.

The Syrian activist group the Local Coordination Committees and a rebel spokesman also said regime troops entered the opposition-held suburb of Moadamiyeh from four points, raiding homes in search of anti-Assad fighters.

The rebel spokesman, who asked to be identified only by his first name Ahmed said three men in their late 20s and early 30s were shot dead execution-style soon after the town fell to regime forces.

He also said 23 fighters from the Free Syrian Army rebel group were killed when government forces stormed the town at dawn.

Later, activists said dozens of bodies were found dumped in a building in the town. The LCC said they appear to have been killed execution-style. But Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said it was not clear whether they were killed in the shelling or had been shot.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Moadamiyeh, west of the capital, Damascus, had been under siege for more than two weeks. Its capture followed days of intense fighting and shelling by government troops.

In northern Syria, an activist who goes by the name Abu al-Hassan said warplanes and helicopters attacked a number of towns and villages north of Aleppo early Tuesday, killing a young boy and another civilian, and damaging homes. Several people also were wounded.

After strafing a number of villages overnight, government fighter jets dropped two bombs on a residential part of the village of Marea, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Aleppo, Abu al-Hassan said via Skype.

One amateur video posted online showed a huge cloud of gray smoke rising over the village, a crater in a rubble-strewn road and two houses with collapsed ceilings. Residents were searching through the rubble for survivors, crying “is anyone there?”

A second video showed a number of people, including a small boy, with serious injuries. The videos could not be independently verified.

Marea is a relatively quiet farming village in the Aleppo countryside that was not known for being a hub of rebel activity, although one rebel group runs a prison in a school there.

Assad’s overstretched forces have found it increasingly difficult to quell the rebel challenge over an ever widening stretch of territory across the country, a sign that the regime’s grip on power is loosening.

The seemingly intractable 17-month-old conflict in Syria that human rights groups say has claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people has defied all international attempts to calm the bloodshed.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Lakhdar Brahimi, the new special representative for Syria, will be based at U.N. headquarters in New York when his new job starts on Sept. 1.

Brahimi will be coming to New York later this week to meet with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and senior U.N. officials, Nesirky said.

Meanwhile, Renesys Corp., a Manchester, N.H., company that studies the structure of the Internet, said a Chinese company is keeping war-torn Syria connected to the Web as other telecommunications companies withdraw.

The Syrian government ultimately controls Internet connection to the outside world but it’s a major route for rebel communications and news from the country as the civil war intensifies.

Hong Kong-based PCCW Ltd. is now carrying most of the Internet traffic to and from Syria, according to Renesys Corp.

Associated Press writers Ben Hubbard in Gaziantep, Turkey, Bassem Mroue, in Tripoli, Lebanon, Lynn Berry in Moscow and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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