Syria lashed out at France on Sunday for backing the rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad, saying Paris' growing support for the opposition does nothing but undermine the mission of the new U.N. envoy tasked with brokering a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
France, Syria's one-time colonial ruler, has been one of the most outspoken Western critics of the Assad regime, and announced earlier this month that it has begun sending direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as part of its intensified efforts to weaken Assad. It was the first such move by a Western power amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi accused France on Sunday of suffering from "schizophrenia" in its approach to the country's conflict.
"On the one hand, it supports Brahimi's mission, while at the same time it makes statements demonstrating that it supports the militarization of the crisis in Syria," Makdessi told The Associated Press.
French officials have acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to Syrian rebel forces, but say they won't provide weapons without international agreement. France played a leading role in the international campaign against Libya's dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.
The Syrian conflict has its roots in mostly peaceful street protests that started in March last year. It has since morphed into a civil war, with at least 20,000 people killed so far, according to rights activists.
Diplomatic efforts to solve the seemingly intractable conflict have failed so far. A peace plan by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan never got off the ground and Annan quit his post as special U.N. envoy. He was replaced on Sept. 1 by Lakhdar Brahimi, a 78-year-old former Algerian foreign minister.
Makdessi said Sunday that Syria is "fully committed to cooperating with Brahimi," adding that "the only way to make Brahimi's mission a success is the cooperation of all parties to enable him to bring about calmness and then the political process."
The Assad regime made similar public statements of cooperation when it signed on to Annan's peace plan, only to frequently ignore or outright violate its commitments by refusing to pull its troops out of cities and cease its shelling of opposition areas.
Makdessi was implicitly referring to France and Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which Damascus accuses of supporting the rebel Free Syrian Army fighting Assad's military onslaught.
Makdessi said the only way to end the Syrian conflict is a "ceasefire by all parties." He said Assad's army will pull out from the streets "once there is a political process as it is now in a state of self-defense and to protect the civilians."
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — a Britain-based monitoring group — said fighting raged across Syria on Sunday.
It said clashes between government forces and rebels took place in a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, in the central city of Homs, the commercial capital of Aleppo in the North and in the eastern city of Deir Deir el-Zour, where two people were killed.
It said the worst fighting was reported was reported in Homs, where two bombs exploded in a bus, killing and wounding several military officers and civilians. It did not elaborate.