STATE DEPARTMENT — The United States on Thursday warned that Syrian government forces appear to be preparing to massacre civilians in the city of Aleppo. Opposition activists say they expect the government to soon launch a major offensive on rebel-held areas across the northern city.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration has "grave concerns" about the use of tanks and fighter jets in the densely-populated city near the Turkish border.
"This is the concern, that we will see a massacre in Aleppo, and that's what the regime appears to be lining up for," said Nuland.
Opposition activists quote sources close to Syrian security forces as saying the government is amassing troops on the southern outskirts of the city, which already has seen helicopter and tank attacks against rebels in the past six days of fighting.
Watch related video of government violence in Aleppo and Hama
Nuland said thousands of people are fleeing the government "onslaught" on the commercial capital.
"This is another desperate attempt by a regime that is going down to try to maintain control, and we are greatly concerned about what they are capable of in Aleppo," she said.
Asked what the international community can do to stop the violence, Nuland again blamed Russia and China for vetoing tougher United Nations action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The U.N. Security Council has been checkmated in this circumstance, which makes it all the more important, as we have always said we have a two-track policy. We want to work in the U.N. But if not, we will work with those countries who want to support the Syrian opposition in seeing a new day," said Nuland.
For the United States, that support remains non-lethal. Nuland said the Obama administration believes that arming Assad's opponents would only lead to more violence.
At a time when more than 100 countries in the so-called "Friends of the Syrian People" group are trying to move toward political transition, Nuland said Iran is taking an "extremely dangerous" position in continuing to supply weapons to Damascus.
"This is further to the unconscionable actions of the Iranian government that has been supporting the Assad regime all the way through this conflict, and even as the violence escalates, continues to provide material support, training," she said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is calling for a further extension of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, offering to contribute 30 Russian observers. Nuland said that if the situation in Syria does not improve, the United States believes U.N. observers should be withdrawn.