A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with Syrian Army.
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with Syrian Army in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of central Aleppo. Photo by Reuters
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Iran appears to be supplying Syria with weapons, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as the 17-month conflict that began as a popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad slides deeper into civil war.

The UN accusation backs charges by Western officials that Iran is providing funds, weapons and intelligence support to Assad in his bid to crush the opposition. Syrian rebels also say Tehran has sent Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah fighters.

"The Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed his concern about the arms flows to the two parties in Syria, which in some cases appear to violate resolution 1747 passed by this council banning arms exports under Chapter 7 authority," UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the UN Security Council.

Resolution 1747 bans arms exports by Iran under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows the Security Council to authorize actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.

The resolution was passed in response to Iran's defiance of UN demands that it halt its nuclear enrichment program. Iran rejects allegations by Western nations and their allies that it is developing nuclear weapons.

"Both the government and the opposition are focusing on military operations and the use of force, with government forces using heavy weapons on population centers," Feltman told the Security Council during a regular briefing on the Middle East.

"The Syrian people are suffering grievously from the appalling further militarization of this conflict," he said.

The United Nations has said more than 18,000 people have died and some 170,000 people have fled the country as a result of the fighting in Syria. UN aid chief Valerie Amos said last week that up to 2.5 million people in Syria needed aid.

A UN Security Council panel of independent experts that monitors sanctions against Iran has uncovered several examples of Iran transferring arms to Syria's government. Damascus has accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of arming rebels determined to topple Assad's government.