BEIRUT — Turkey accused Syria of "state terrorism" Wednesday after a sharp spike in the death toll from the Syrian civil war, and Iran came under new scrutiny with the U.S. alleging that Tehran is flying weapons to President Bashar Assad's regime across Iraqi airspace.
With violence escalating in the nearly 18-month-old crisis, strains rippled across the region as Egypt's president urged Assad to take a lesson from the Arab Spring uprisings that deposed other leaders and step down.
There appears to be no end in sight for the conflict, however. Neither side seems to be able to gain a significant advantage in the fighting that has killed 23,000 people, according to activists' estimates.
Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of Assad and is host to Syrian opposition groups as well as about 80,000 of the more than 200,000 refugees who have fled to surrounding countries to escape the bloodshed.
"The regime has become one of state terrorism," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Syria is going through a huge humanitarian saga. Unfortunately, as usual, the international community is merely watching the slaughter, massacre and the elimination of Muslims."
The Syrian government's crackdown has led to worldwide condemnation and sanctions, weakened the economy and left Assad an international pariah just as he was trying to open up his country and modernize the economy. His few remaining allies include Iran, Russia and China.
The New York Times reported that U.S. officials believe Iran resumed shipments of military equipment to Syria via Iraqi airspace in July after a three-month hiatus.
Ali al-Moussawi, media adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, confirmed that Iranian planes are flying over Iraq to deliver goods to Syria. But he said Tehran has assured al-Maliki that the flights are carrying only food and other humanitarian aid for victims of the civil war.
"The Iraqi government is carefully monitoring this issue both in the sky and ground," al-Moussawi told The Associated Press. He said Iraq has warned Iran against flying weapons though its airspace.
"The Iranian government has said that it respects our decisions," he said. "Until now, there is no evidence of any violation in this regard, and if anyone has any evidence, they should bring it to us and we will take the needed measures."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Iraq's failure to stop the flights could threaten the long-term relationship with the U.S. as well as aid Iraq could receive as part of a 2008 strategic pact between the two nations.