Drone - AP - Jan. 31, 2010
A U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan Photo by AP
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The United States is flying unmanned reconnaissance planes over Syria to monitor the regime's escalating crackdown on dissent, U.S. defense officials told NBC television on Saturday.

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The drones are being used to gather evidence on the Syrian security forces' violence against pro-democracy protesters that can be used to "make a case for a widespread international response," the U.S.-based broadcaster quoted the unnamed officials as saying.

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The Pentagon officials stressed that the U.S. is not preparing the ground for a military intervention, but is simply collecting evidence of President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protesters.

There was no official comment from Syria on the report.

The West has ruled out a Libya-style military intervention in Syria to stop 11 months of bloodshed.

Meanwhile, there have been disagreements regarding what action must be taken against Syria. Turkey refuses to set up buffer zones for civilians on its border with Syria, and demands that the transfer of equipment and medicine be done via the sea and not through its territory.

France, on the other hand, maintains that such buffer zones must be on land and will anyhow spill over the Turkish border.

While the Syrian army continued to attack Daraa and Homs with tanks and heavy artillery, large protests also took place in Damascus, as well as Aleppo, a city which hasn't taken part in anti-regime protests regularly thus far.

The resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly condemning Syria, supported by 137 countries, has not impressed the Syrian regime which is only escalating its war against the opposition and widening its war zones. Russia continues to come to aid of the Assad regime with weapon shipments, and on Friday two Iranian warships passed through the Suez Canal on the way to Tartus port in Syria.

Western officials fear that Iranian military presence along with Russian aid could turn Syria into a center of international friction much worse than the struggle inside Syria. They fear that the control over actions in Syria will be taken over by a Russian-Iranian "partnership" which would exclude the European Union and Turkey and that U.S. involvement could be too late and inefficient.

Turkey fears this development after a diplomatic crisis erupted with Syria when more than 40 Turkish intelligence officers were captured by the Syrian army. Over the past week, Turkey has been conducting intensive negotiations with Syria in order to secure their freedom, and Syria insists that their release will be conditioned on the extradition of Syrian officers and soldiers that defected and are currently in Turkey.

Syria also conditioned the continuation of the negotiations on Turkey's blockade of weapon transfers and passage of soldiers from the rebels' Free Syria Army through its territory. It also demanded that Iran sponsor the negotiations of releasing the Turkish officers.

Turkey, who mediated several weeks ago between the Free Syria Army and Iran to secure the release of several Iranian citizens who were captured by the rebels, rejects Syria's demands, and for this reason Turkish sources believe that Turkey will soon decide on hardening its stance on Syria.

Syria, on the other hand, has recently published "confessions" that it allegedly gathered from the Turkish officers that they were trained by Israel's Mossad, and were given instructions to carry out bombings to undermine the country's security. According to the Syrians, one of the Turkish officers said that the Mossad also trains soldiers from the Free Syria Army, and that Mossad agents came to Jordan in order to train al-Qaida officials to send to Syria to carry out attacks.

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