BEIRUT — A Syrian government official warned the United States on Tuesday that military intervention in Syria could lead to regional turmoil, activists said, as regime forces bombed a northern village and stormed a rebel-held Damascus suburb, killing dozens of people.
The comments came a day after President Barack Obama said the United States would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in the Syrian civil war if Bashar Assad’s government deploys or uses chemical or biological weapons, describing it as a “red line” for the United States.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil called Obama’s statements “propagandistic threats” made in connection with the U.S. presidential election. But Jamil also said the comments indicate that the West is looking for a pretext to intervene militarily.
He insisted that such intervention would be “impossible” because it would cause the civil war to spread to other countries in the region.
“Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria’s borders,” Jamil told reporters during a visit to Moscow.
The conflict already has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon, where sectarian tensions have risen.
Clashes that broke out Monday night between the two sides in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli killed at least six people and wounded more than 70 in some of the most serious fighting in Lebanon in several months, the Lebanese state-run news agency said. The wounded included nine Lebanese soldiers.
The mostly Sunni city also saw gunbattles in May, when fighting over Syria killed eight people. The latest clashes were between gunmen from the Sunni neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen and the neighboring district of Bab Tabbaneh, which is mostly populated by followers of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Assad is a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, while rebels fighting his regime are predominantly Sunnis.
The streets around the two districts were sealed off by roadblocks to keep people away from the line of snipers’ fire, but life went on normally in the rest of the city despite the occasional sound of gunfire.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. is “very concerned” about the spillover effect from Syria.
Heavy fighting Tuesday also continued in and around Aleppo.
On Monday, veteran Japanese war correspondent Mika Yamamoto became the first foreign journalist to die in the northern Syrian city since clashes between rebels and regime forces erupted there almost a month ago.
Syrian government forces also reportedly captured two other journalists there, including Alhurra TV correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cuneyt Unal.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Masaru Sato said Yamamoto, 45, was hit by gunfire while she and a colleague were traveling with rebels from the Free Syrian Army who are fighting the Assad regime.
Yamamoto worked for The Japan Press, an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict-zone coverage.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 16 journalists have been killed since November while covering Syria, making it “the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.”
A statement from Springfield, Va.-based Alhurra said the company has not been able to reach its correspondent and his cameraman since they entered Syria on Monday morning.
Most of Tuesday’s fighting appeared centered in Damascus suburbs, which have witnessed a dramatic spike in fighting over the past month.
The Syrian activist group the Local Coordination Committees and a rebel spokesman also said regime troops entered the opposition-held suburb of Moadamiyeh from four points, raiding homes in search of anti-Assad fighters.
The rebel spokesman, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ahmed, said three men in their late 20s and early 30s were shot dead execution-style soon after the town fell to regime forces.