TEHRAN Anti-government demonstrations in Syria are part of a plot by the West to undermine a government that supports "resistance" in the Middle East, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.
Unlike uprisings in other parts of the Arab world which Tehran has applauded as an "Islamic awakening" of peoples against Western-backed oppressors, the protests in Syria have received little media attention or official comment in Iran.
But at his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Iran's spokesman said the protests in Syria over the last three weeks, in which 200 people died, according to a rights group, were not a spontaneous event but the result of foreign interference. Syria is Iran's closest Arab ally.
"What is happening in Syria is a mischievous act of Westerners, particularly Americans and Zionists," Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters.
"With the help of their media they are trying to create an artificial protest somewhere or exaggerate a demand of a small group and present it, instead, as the demand and will of the majority."
"No one should be fooled by this trick that Americans are playing."
The Iranian government crushed huge protests after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009. Two people were shot dead during a demonstration on February 14 this year, the first attempt by the opposition movement to rally in more than a year.
Iran's leaders have branded opposition leaders "seditionists" backed by its Western enemies and parliament has called for the movement's leaders to be arrested and hanged.
While Bashar al-Assad heads government is secular, it has close ties with Iran's clerical state and both support militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
The United States and Israel have accused both countries of trafficking arms to those groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, something both countries deny.
Mehmanparast said Western powers were concerned about losing influence in the reshaped Middle East and sought to hurt Tehran and Damascus.
"They want to avenge some countries like Iran and Syria, which support the resistance, by facilitating small groups," he said. "The Western media tell the world these people are the majority of the society and this is the biggest lie and distortion."
(Reporting by Hossein Jaseb; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Hemming)