Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is not ready to shift its stance on supporting the Syrian government, and suggested Western nations are using militant groups such as al-Qaida to help drive Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
Speaking on Russia Today television, Putin questioned why Russia should be the only one reassessing its position. He said "Perhaps our negotiating partners should re-evaluate their position."
The Russian leader was asked whether Moscow should rethink its views on Syria after vetoing three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to pressure Assad to end violence that has killed 20,000 people.
Without naming any country, he said Western nations looking to oust Assad are backing militants to help topple him. He called it a "very dangerous and shortsighted policy."
Rebel town re-captured
Also Thursday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Assad's forces have recaptured from rebels a town on the border with Jordan used as a transit point by refugees fleeing the country's civil war.
The watchdog group said hundreds of Syrian soldiers backed by tanks assaulted Tel Chehab early Thursday. Scores were arrested and rebel safehouses set ablaze.
Activists said about 2,000 refugees were in Tel Chehab when it was captured.
The Observatory also said two kidnapped brothers of a Syrian rebel commander were killed on Thursday, as battles raged between rebels and army forces in several districts of Damascus.
Iraq airspace questioned
In Baghdad, visiting U.S. officials this week questioned Iraqi leaders whether Iranian flights over Iraq are taking weapons to Syrian government forces.
Three prominent American senators told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that ties with Washington would be damaged if his government permits Iran to use Iraqi airspace to deliver arms to Syria.
Senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham said the issue could affect Iraq's long-term partnership with the United States.
Iraq has no real air force and says it cannot defend its airspace. But Iraqi officials say they have no evidence that Iranian flights are carrying weapons or military hardware.
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