Iran confirmed Sunday that it has, as previously speculated, sent troops to aid President Bashar Assad's
crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in his country.
The United Nations and human rights groups estimate that over 13,000 people have been killed in Syria
since the uprising began in March 2011 – 9,200 of them civilians.
"If the Islamic Republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of civilians would have been twice as bad," General Ismail Qa'ani, deputy-commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force, told Tehran's ISNA news agency.
he added, "Had physically and non-physically stopped the rebels from killing many more among the Syrian people."
This was a rare admission by an Iranian official that Tehran was truly aiding the Damascus regime.
The quote was later removed from ISNA's website.
Aiding Assad. Revolutionary Guards (Photo: Reuters)
Sunday's statement was particularly strident, as it followed the brutal killing of 92 people, including 32 children, in Houla,
in the embattled province of Homs,
by Damascus' forces.
The carnage was strongly condemned
by the United Nations, the United States, Britain, Germany and France; and the Arab League
called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
Earlier Sunday, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said "armed groups" carried out the attack in Houla.
"No Syrian artillery or heavy weapons were used in the area of Houla," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, a senior Arab League official said that Syria has denied permission for a deputy of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to travel to Damascus.
The official said that Syria "made clear" that the decision against former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Kidwa "was not personal, but rather because it did not want to deal with the Arab League."
Annan is due in Damascus on Monday. The Arab League named Al-Kidwa as his deputy in March.
Roi Kais and AP contributed to this report
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