Syria accuses U.S., France of arming, funding "terrorists"

UNITED NATIONS Mon Oct 1, 2012 12:49pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria accused the United States, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Monday of hijacking the country's 18-month conflict between government forces and pro-democracy rebel groups by supporting "terrorism" with arms, money and foreign fighters.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told the U.N. General Assembly that outside calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down were a "blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Syria, and the unity of its people and its sovereignty."

Earlier on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Moualem and strongly criticized the Syrian government for killings, rights abuses, aerial and artillery attacks, and expressed frustration that the conflict was worsening.

Speaking on the final day of the annual gathering of the 193-nation assembly, Moualem said that Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, and France "clearly induce and support terrorism in Syria with money, weapons and foreign fighters."

"Under the pretext of concepts such as the 'Responsibility to Protect,' drums of war are beaten, and sedition and unrest are spreading and damaging the structure of national societies," Moualem said.

He was referring to a concept about governments' responsibility to protect civilians that has become increasingly popular in Western diplomatic and academic circles. The concept was used to justify last year's military intervention in Libya.

"Worst of all is to see permanent members of the Security Council, who launched wars under the pretext of combating terrorism, now support terrorism in my country," Moualem said.

Russia, backed by China, repeatedly vetoed Western- and Arab-backed council resolutions that criticized the Syrian government and threatened it with sanctions, saying the United States, Europe and Gulf Arabs were seeking regime change.

Ban "raised in the strongest terms the continued killings, massive destruction, human rights abuses, and aerial and artillery attacks committed by the government," his spokesman said in a statement.

"He stressed that it was the Syrian people who were being killed every day, and appealed to the Government of Syria to show compassion to its own people," the spokesman said.

(Editing by Will Dunham)