British and German spies are involved in covert operations to help Syrian rebels in their increasingly bloody fight to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, press reports said yesterday.
The claims emerged as UN observers wound up their troubled mission in Syria with violence showing no let-up on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
A boy and a girl were among seven people killed as government forces shelled rebel strongholds, including parts of the main northern battleground of Aleppo, a human rights watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported at least 137 deaths on Saturday, and said 42 bodies had been dumped in al-Tal town in Damascus Province, in a gruesome sign of escalating brutality.
Just two days after his appointment, new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi came under fire from the opposition for reportedly refusing to say whether al-Assad should stand down.
Meanwhile, press reports said German and British spies were passing on information about Syrian troop movements to the rebels who took up arms against al-Assad’s regime more than a year ago in the face of its brutal crackdown on protests.
“We can be proud of the significant contribution we are making to the fall of the Assad regime,” an official from Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service told Bild am Sonntag.
The paper said German spies were stationed off the Syrian coast and also active at a NATO base in Turkey, whose government is staunchly opposed to the al-Assad regime and is sheltering Free Syrian Army rebels.
Britain’s Sunday Times newsaper also said British intelligence was helping rebels launch successful attacks on government forces with information gathered from their listening posts in nearby Cyprus.
It said the most valuable intelligence has been about the movements of troops toward the flashpoint commercial hub of Aleppo, which is now partly controlled by rebels and is the scene of some of the fiercest fighting.
The regime’s far superior military might has failed to suppress the poorly armed rebels, whose determination to bring al-Assad down has only grown with the passing of time.
Overall, the death toll has surged to at least 23,000 people since March last year, the Observatory says, while the UN puts the toll at 17,000.
With the bloodletting showing no signs of abating, the opposition lashed out at Brahimi, branding as “unacceptable” his reported comments that it was too soon for him to call for al-Assad to go.
Brahimi’s comments only served to give al-Assad’s government a “license to kill tens of thousands more Syrians,” the Syrian National Council said in a statement.
The West is demanding al-Assad step down as part of any political deal to end the 17-month conflict, but is opposed by Syria’s traditional allies in Moscow and Beijing, which see it as foreign-imposed regime change.
Brahimi, who replaced former UN envoy Kofi Annan, nevertheless won support from the West, as well as China and Russia, although the White House said it would be seeking clarifications on the terms of his mandate.