Syrian rebels hunt for snipers near Aleppo on July 23, 2012.
Credit: Bulent Kilic

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has accused Iran of building and training a militia to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime fight the rebels.

"There's now an indication that they're trying to develop - or trying to train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime," Panetta said during a news briefing at the Pentagon yesterday, CNN reported. "We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern to us that that's taking place." 

Iran is a staunch Assad ally and yesterday condemned the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recommendation to suspend Syria's membership from the world Muslim body.  

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained that the militia Iran is supporting is made up of Syrian Shiite forces and is being used to take the pressure off Assad's regime's forces. 

“Any army would be taxed with that kind of pace,” Dempsey said, the Associated Press reported. “They are having resupply problems, they are having morale problems, they are having the kind of wear and tear that would come of being in a fight for as long as they have.”

The US has been providing Syrian rebels with non-lethal aid such as communications equipment, CNN reported.

"We have been in discussion with Jordanians and and the Turks. They're both interested mostly in the effects that could spill from Syria into their countries. Both have examined the possibility of a safe haven. And with a safe haven would probably come some form of no-fly zone. But we're not planning anything unilaterally," Dempsey said. However, Panetta repeated the assertions he made during an Associated Press interview on Monday, saying that creating a no-fly zone in the region “is not a front-burner issue” for the US.

A no-fly zone in Syria could hasten the regime's fall, according to military analyst Jeffrey White, who wrote that "the regime's strategy for dealing with the rebellion is failing," writes in an article for the Washington Institute, an American think-tank.

Yesterday, Syria's former prime minister, who defected to Jordan last week, urged supporters to abandon Assad, claiming that the regime was on the brink of collapse.  

At last count, activists reported that more than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began 17 months ago.  

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