A "good number" of unmanned US military drones are operating in the skies over Syria to monitor President Bashar Assad’s military’s crackdown against the opposition, American defense officials told NBC News.
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In comments published on Saturday, the officials said this surveillance is not in preparation for US military intervention. Rather, the officials told NBC News, the Obama administration hopes to use the overhead visual evidence and intercepts of Syrian government and military communications in an effort to "make the case for a widespread international response."
Satellite image of Assad forces' weaponry (Photo: US State Department)
According to NBC News, while there has been some discussion among White House, State Department and Pentagon officials about possible humanitarian missions to Syria, US officials fear that those missions could not be carried out without endangering those involved and would almost certainly draw the United States into a military role in Syria.
On Thursday the 193-nation UN General Assembly ratcheted up the pressure on Assad by overwhelmingly approving a resolution that endorses an Arab League plan calling for him to step aside.
The initial count showed that the resolution, which is similar to one Russia and China vetoed in the Security Council on February 4, received 137 votes in favor, 12 against and 17 abstentions, though three delegations said their votes failed to register on the electronic board.
Russia and China were among those opposing the resolution, which was drafted by Saudi Arabia and submitted by Egypt on behalf of Arab UN delegations. Unlike in the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the General Assembly, and its decisions lack the legal force of council resolutions.
"Today the UN General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria - the world is with you," US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in a statement.
"An overwhelming majority of UN member states have backed the plan put forward by the Arab League to end the suffering of Syrians," she said. "Bashar Assad has never been more isolated."
The resolution said the assembly "fully supports" the Arab League plan and urges UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to Syria. It also condemns Damascus for "widespread and systematic violations of human rights" and calls for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from towns and cities.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari rejected the resolution, telling the assembly that it was part of a plot to overthrow Syria's government and allow the "terrorist" opposition to take over the country.
"We have deep concerns vis-à-vis the real intentions of the countries that have co-sponsored this draft, particularly that these countries are leading a political and media aggression against Syria," he said.
Reuters contributed to the report
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