DAMASCUS, Syria – Iran and Syria condemned a U.S. plan to assist rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad on Saturday and signaled that the Syrian leader intends to stay in power at least until 2014 presidential elections.
The remarks came against the backdrop of a strategic victory for the regime as the military regained control over a string of villages along a key highway to open a potential supply route in Syrias heavily contested north.
The army command boasted of the achievement in a statement, saying it had eradicated the remnants of terrorist agents and mercenaries in the area that links the government-controlled central city of Hama with Aleppos international airport.
The reversal of gains, confirmed by Syrian activists, has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Aleppo, Syrias largest city where government troops and rebels have been locked in a stalemate for months.
Syrian rebels have long complained that they are hampered by the worlds failure to provide heavier arms to help them battle Assads better-equipped military.
The international community is reluctant to send weapons partly because of fears they may fall into the hands of extremists who have been gaining influence among the rebels.
But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday that the Obama administration was giving an additional $60 million in assistance to Syrias political opposition and would, for the first time, provide non-lethal aid directly to the rebels.
Assad told the Sunday Times, in an interview timed to coincide with Kerrys first foreign trip as the top U.S. diplomat, that the intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal.
In their first official statements on the U.S. decision, the Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers accused Washington of having double standards and warned that the American plan will only delay an end to the civil war.
Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and has stood by the embattled Assad throughout the conflict.