Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is increasing its efforts to help Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
Clinton gave no details, but she said Tuesday that the U.S. is giving such non-lethal aid as medical and communications support. She said Washington is working outside of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions that would have taken strong action against the Assad government.
The secretary said the Syrian opposition is seizing control of more and more territory, which she says will eventually become a safe haven and a base for more operations.
She said the opposition must be ready to start work on an interim government that protects the rights of all Syrians and safeguards the stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.
Opposition Demands Assad Step Down
The spokesman for the Syrian National Council says the main opposition grouping is still demanding President Bashar al-Assad leave power, denying that the coalition would consider having someone from the current government temporarily lead a political transition.
Syrian National Council spokesman George Sabra told VOA by phone from Paris Tuesday that he had been misquoted in an earlier news report in which he was reported to have said the SNC would agree to the departure of President Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would temporarily lead a transitional period.
“There is not any change with the position and opinion of SNC about the regime and the transition period," he said. "The transition period should start after leaving Bashar al-Assad and his regime the power.
"And the principle of this transition period has been announced in a document issued by the most parties of the opposition in that meeting which has been held two weeks ago in Cairo," Sabra said. "So nothing new about this thing.”
The opposition meeting earlier this month in Cairo was marked by squabbling among delegates.
But ultimately a plan emerged for a framework for a post-Assad political transition period that includes an interim government and parliament.
SNC spokesman Sabra indicated that talks continue within the opposition about the way forward if and when President Assad leaves power.
“We are discussing now between us in the council, and also with the Free Syrian Army, about the idea of the transition document,” he said.
Meanwhile, Syrian jets flew overhead while helicopters fired missiles Tuesday in a new government push to put down the rebellion in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
The exact situation on the ground is not clear. But witnesses report heavy fighting in the streets. Opposition reports say thousands of Syrian troops are heading toward Aleppo from their positions near the Turkish border.
Aleppo was relatively calm until late last week when the rebels launched their operation to take the city.
The opposition-run Local Coordination Committees also reported Tuesday that government forces were shelling areas outside Damascus, as well as in Homs, and in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama joined other world figures in warning Syria against using chemical weapons.
Obama's comments came after a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the government would never use chemical weapons against its own people, but would unleash them against what he called foreign invaders. He said the military is securely guarding the nation's weapons stockpile.
Syrian activists say more than 19,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in March of last year.