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(CNN) -- Sen. John McCain called Monday for the
United States to lead an international effort to protect the Syrian
population by carrying out piloted airstrikes on Syrian government
"Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other
opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will
not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives," the
Arizona Republican said in an impassioned speech in the U.S. Senate.
"The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power."
The goal, added the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, should be to establish and defend safe havens, primarily in
northern Syria, where opposition forces could organize their efforts.
"These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed
groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and
effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign
partners," he said.
McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, said that any such effort would
require taking out Syria's air-defense systems. "We're the only ones who
can do that," he said.
But he predicted that some kind of intervention will happen, even if the United States does not act. "So
the real question for U.S. policy is whether we will participate in
this next phase of the conflict in Syria, and thereby increase our
ability to shape an outcome that is beneficial to the Syrian people, and
to us. I believe we must."
McCain's remarks came as opposition activists said another 26 people
died Monday in the nationwide campaign by Bashar al-Assad's regime to
crush the nearly year-old protests against his rule. The United Nations
says at least 7,500 people have died in the crackdown, while opposition
activists put the toll at more than 9,000.
McCain said that any effort must include other nations. "We should
seek the active involvement of key Arab partners," such as the United
Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar "and willing allies" in the
European Union, NATO and Turkey, he said.
McCain acknowledged that his proposal is a risky one, that the
opposition lacks cohesion and that the American public has wearied of
war, but said that should not dissuade U.S. officials from moving
forward. "There are no ideal options in Syria," he said. "We need to
deal with reality as it is, not as we wish it to be."
He added, "The Syrian people deserve to succeed. Shame on us if we fail to help them."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was noncommittal. "The secretary is
interested in exploring options that could help end the brutal violence
in Syria, but he also recognizes that this is an extremely complex
crisis," a senior Pentagon official said. "Intervention at this time
could very well exacerbate problems inside the country."
McCain's call to arms came as diplomatic efforts were moving. After
days of trying to obtain permission from Syrian authorities to travel to
the country, Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary-general for
humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, will arrive
Wednesday in Damascus, she said. Syria decided to permit the two-day
"As requested by the secretary-general (Ban Ki-moon), my aim is to
urge all parties to allow unhindered access for humanitarian relief
workers so that they can evacuate the wounded and deliver essential
supplies," Amos said in a statement.
Syria said Amos will arrive Tuesday evening. She will meet with
Foreign MInister Walid al-Moallem and "will pay visits to some areas in
Syria," state-run news agency SANA reported.
Amos was denied access last week by the government, which said it was
not a "suitable time" to visit, Syrian state-run TV reported.
Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general who is now special
joint envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, will
fly Saturday to Damascus, an Arab League official said.
He will be accompanied by his deputy, former Palestinian Foreign
Minister Nasser al-Kidwa. Their goal will be to persuade President
Bashar al-Assad to stop the killing, the official said.
SANA reported that Syria "welcomes the visit of Kofi Annan, envoy of the U.N. secretary-general."
The announcement came as government troops broadened their lethal
focus from the western city of Rastan, which was pummeled over the
weekend, opposition activists said.
Complicating the matter is the assertion by several Obama
administration officials that the United States sees increasing
involvement by and military aid from Iran in the attacks against
opposition to the Syrian regime.
They say they believe Iran wants to do whatever it can to ensure the
survival of the regime of al-Assad, one of Tehran's closest allies.
"The aid from Iran is absolutely on the rise and is of very real
concern," a U.S. official told CNN. "Tehran has supplied equipment,
weapons and technical assistance -- notably computer monitoring tools --
to help suppress unrest."
Iranian officials have traveled to Damascus to deliver the aid, the official said.
A second U.S. official told CNN the assistance includes money and training, as well as weapons and riot gear.
Neither of the officials would be identified due to the sensitive nature of the intelligence information.
Syria's military has been reduced only slightly by defections to the
opposition, U.S. officials say. The latest U.S assessment is that as
many as 10,000 Syrian troops may have defected, but that represents
fewer than 2% of Syria's more than 600,000-man active-duty and reserve
The news of diplomatic movement came as the body count continued to
mount. At least 19 people were killed on Monday, including two children,
according to Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, a network of
Most of the dead were in Homs, where 11 people were killed, the LCC said.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said families forced to flee
during the month-long siege of the city were returning home "after
authorities restored stability and security" to the neighborhood of Baba
Amr, the heart of the uprising. It said security forces had seized a
factory for makeshift explosives and rockets, as well as tunnels "used
by the terrorists to smuggle weapons."
Residents of the devastated neighborhood endured another day with
scarce or no access to running water, electricity and medical supplies,
as the humanitarian toll of the nearly year-old Syrian conflict
escalates. Carla Haddad Mardini, spokeswoman for the International
Committee of the Red Cross, said Monday that aid workers still were not
allowed to enter Baba Amr.
Mardini said the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent were delivering
food and hygiene kits in two neighborhoods adjacent to Baba Amr --
al-Tawzee and al-Inshaat.
"We were supposed to be there yesterday but we were not allowed,"
Mardini said. "A convoy of aid materials arrived today to Homs from
Damascus and it contains food supplies to cover the needs of several
Another two were killed in Idlib, two more in Daraa and two in the
suburbs of Damascus, with one death each in Aleppo and Hama, another
flashpoint in the ongoing struggle, the LCC said.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports across Syria because the
government has severely restricted the access of international
journalists. But the vast majority of reports out of Syria indicate
al-Assad's forces are slaughtering civilians in opposition hotbeds in an
attempt to wipe out dissidents.
The Syrian regime has consistently blamed violence on "armed
terrorist groups" and portrayed its forces as trying to protect the
public interest and security. The Syrian government says more than 2,000
security personnel have been killed in the violence, including 12
"martyrs" it said were buried Monday.
The Syrian regime has ramped up raids and arrests across the country,
detaining hundreds of civilians in the past two days, the network said.
It said Syrian journalist and blogger Rafaa Masri was among those
The U.S. Treasury announced Monday it was identifying the Syrian
General Organization of Radio and TV as subject to sanctions imposed
against Syria in August.
"The General Organization of Radio and TV has served as an arm of the
Syrian regime as it mounts increasingly barbaric attacks on its own
population and seeks both to mask and legitimize its violence," the
director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Adam
Szubin, said in a statement. "By taking this action today, Treasury is
sending a clear signal that it stands with the Syrian people. Any
individuals or institutions supporting its abhorrent behavior will be
targeted and cut off from the international financial system."
As many as 2,000 Syrians have crossed into Lebanon since Sunday,
according to Dana Suleiman, spokesman for the United Nations' refugee
agency UNHCR in Beirut. They came from Homs province, she said.
Explosions and gunfire could be heard Monday in the Jib Jandali
neighborhood of Homs province, according to the Syrian Observatory for
Rebel forces said they drove out the army from Rastan -- but
acknowledged that most of their fighters had retreated from the besieged
area, which is located between the flashpoint cities of Homs and Hama.
Capt. Ammar al-Wawi said the Free Syrian Army's withdrawal from Rastan "was strategic to save the people's lives."
"We don't want to give the regime any excuse to kill more civilians,"
Wawi said Monday. "It was a tactical withdrawal in order to create
better circumstances and to get ready for the next step."
Though they are outnumbered and out-armed by the Syrian military,
members of the Free Syrian Army managed to attack an air force
intelligence building in Harasta, near Damascus, with machine guns
Sunday night, FSA deputy head Malek al-Kurdi said.
Wawi said a growing number of defections from Syrian troops are affecting the government's tactics.
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"The regime is avoiding direct confrontations with the FSA fighters,
so they attack and bomb the cities using artillery ... and rockets
because when they fight us on the ground, we always end up getting more
defectors joining our sides," he said.
CNN's Saad Abedine, Ted Barrett, Barbara
Starr, Hamdi Alkhshali, Salma Abdelaziz and Holly Yan, and journalists
Omar Muqdad and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.