- (Photo: Reuters/George Ourfalian)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must step down if things for the war-torn country are to get better. Meanwhile, Russia is stepping up its help for Assad by providing his government with military supplies, including armored vehicles and bombs.
"I believe as we begin to ... get into this process, that it will become clear there is no political solution whatsoever if Assad is not discussing a transition and if he thinks he is going to be part of that future. It is not going to happen," Kerry said at a news conference on Friday, Reuters reported.
"We are also not out of options with respect to what we may be able to do to increase the pressure and further change the calculus," he added.
The U.S. threatened military action against Assad's government and blamed the president for the large-scale chemical attack in Damascus in August, which reportedly killed 1,429 Syrians, including 426 children, which Kerry described as a "crime against humanity."
Assad has officially denied that his government was behind the attacks, and blamed the rebel factions that are trying to force him out of power. As threats of military intervention mounted, Syria managed to lighten international pressure after it agreed to a Russian proposal that it turn over its chemical weapons to international control.
Another Reuters report on Friday revealed that the Russian government, which has backed Assad and rejected evidence that his administration was behind the chemical weapon attack, has been stepping up its support by providing the Syrian government with military gear, armored vehicles, drones and guided bombs.
The supplies are said to aid Assad at a crucial time when warring rebel groups who stand against him have reportedly been weakened.
"Dozens of Antonov 124s (Russian transport planes) have been bringing in armored vehicles, surveillance equipment, radars, electronic warfare systems, spare parts for helicopters, and various weapons including guided bombs for planes," an anonymous Middle East security source said.
"Russian advisers and intelligence experts have been running observation UAVs around the clock to help Syrian forces track rebel positions, analyze their capabilities, and carry out precision artillery and air force strikes against them," the source added.
Russia has denied that such help is in violation of international law, arguing that it does not sell "offensive weapons" to the Syrian government.
The Syrian crisis, where over 100,000 people have been killed since 2011, and close to 9.3 million have been displaced, has been called "the biggest humanitarian crisis" of today by the U.N.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the nations of the world for a $6.5 billion donation this year at a conference in Kuwait on Wednesday, saying that the money is the difference between life and death for millions in the Middle East country.
The minority Christian population in Syria has also been heavily affected by the civil war, with Islamic rebels slaughtering Christians, and burning down churches and even entire towns in some instances.
Syria rose to No. 3 on persecution watchdog group Open Doors' 2014 World Watch List of countries where believers are most persecuted, noting that the Syrian opposition is "increasingly Islamizing" and that Christians are becoming more vulnerable in the war-torn country.
Further peace talks on Syria, which the U.S. will also be a part of, are scheduled for next week in Switzerland, with U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos expressing hope that the talks will have a "positive result."
"In the meantime, every child, every woman, every man affected by this crisis deserves our continued support," Amos said.